It’s special and rare and inspiring to watch two entrepreneurs so dialed into an idea that they almost finish each other’s sentences.
When Neil Weeda shares a flurry of technical terms, explaining the inner workings of Deep Sight, their game-changing product, James Cerone sometimes jumps in, simplifying the concept for the non-scientific mind, then adding a little razzle dazzle he learned from his wedding DJ dad, before finishing with a million-dollar smile.
When Cerone provides detailed analogies and marketing pitches, yet pauses about some product details, Weeda steps in, providing the theory and the mechanics, convincing you this product will work, even if he doesn’t sleep for three days to figure out the problem.
But that’s the magic of Weeda and Cerone, they are real-time phone-a-friends for each other. They balance each other out. Their chemistry is contagious. So is their passion. Drive. Energy. Upbeat attitude.
Perhaps, the good vibes stem from their emerging idea, an idea that made their freshman year at Hope College much busier than expected: a smart fire detection system they hope will shake up the fire industry and help prevent companies from sustaining millions of dollars in losses.
Cerone explained most current fire detection systems wait on the ceiling for fires to happen. Smoke detectors can be compared to a giant human nose sniffing for smoke and sprinklers are like human hands waiting to feel heat.
Deep Sight is more active and will mimic another human sense: sight. Therefore, some type of camera or imaging will be used, Cerone said.
The benefits? Enter Weeda. First, it will locate the fire and using a black box idea provide data to where the fire started, what happened, etc. That data can be used to save lives down the road.
Next, integration with sprinklers, Weeda said. Instead of all the sprinklers turning on, or the wrong ones turning on, just the exact sprinklers required turn on and then turn off immediately after the fire is out. Millions of dollars in equipment and product saved.
Finally, targeted suppression, catching a fire as early as possible – not when smoke hits the ceiling – and putting it out before it has a chance to become big.
A surge of support
Weeda and Cerone couldn’t have picked a better time to start a business in Ottawa County.
Today the brilliant minds at Lakeshore Advantage will introduce Surge, an entrepreneurial services program that will offer a “boost of energy that can help a startup achieve their next growth milestone.”
In other words, building on the strong foundation of the Holland Smart Zone, which already provides support to high-tech companies within certain boundaries of Holland. However, Surge has a broader focus.
“The excitement around Surge is the ability to develop an ecosystem for ALL entrepreneurs to start here and stay here on the Lakeshore, knowing that this community supports their doing so by providing a wide range of services and connection points to area service providers, mentors and to each other,” said Brooke Corbin, manager of innovation solutions at Lakeshore Advantage.
“I think it’s going to help them in a lot of ways,” Gira said. “Whether that’s the mentorship, different connections, or potential funding, Lakeshore Advantage is creating a lot of great resources for businesses in the area that they should be able to tap into.”
In fact, Weeda and Cerone are just the type of talent Corbin hopes will become the next generation of major employers in Ottawa County.
“Fire Sight LLC is a perfect example of the kind of company that Surge can support—they are developing a new technology and will need resources to grow their startup here,” Corbin said.
Bringing the product to market
Back to Weeda and Cerone and Deep Sight.
It all started in the fall of 2016, when they lived on the same floor on Hope’s campus. They start talking about business ideas until one stuck out – a smarter smoke detector, one that was more proactive then reactive.
But they didn’t do much with it and left for Christmas break.
When they returned, though, a series of random situations sparked action. Cerone went for a quick run before a cross country meet and ran into firefighters doing a demonstration. He got a business card. They later met with a firefighter and immediately afterward stumbled upon a Hope College entrepreneurship program meeting. They were invited in.
The result? Those back-to-back meetings validated their idea.
“It got serious real quick,” Cerone said.
They heard about M West Challenge, West Michigan’s regional business plan competition and hustled to prepare in just weeks. Initially they thought Deep Sight would sell for homes, but quickly pivoted to commercial buildings after talking with homeowners and realizing the price would make it a tough sell.
And life still went on, they were full-time students, with lab reports to write, even the night of the competition.
“We did this on our own time,” Weeda points out.
The dedication, the commitment, and the grind did not go unnoticed to the Hope College entrepreneurship community.
“When I met the team for the first time, I think our entire team at Hope said ‘They’re freshmen students? That’s amazing,'” Gira said. “They’re an incredibly talented team, that works hard, and what I think is the most important part is that they’re thoughtful about everything they do. They get a lot of work done, and everything they do has a purpose, which is so great to see in young entrepreneurs.”
“We’re still so early in the process,” Weeda said. “To do that well, I am quite proud of.”
“Defining a target market for them is more important than building a prototype right now because they need to know how to exactly solve the problems that their customers have. They could have the greatest prototype in the world, but if it doesn’t solve a problem, it’s worthless,” Gira said.
“It’s ridiculous,” Cerone said. “You can’t risk it.”