Small Business Success Story: Lumineye
The team of entrepreneurs behind this Boise-based company is working to solve a major challenge for the military and first responders.
Megan Lacy is no stranger to running fast while juggling.
In high school, she was one of the top female 5K runners in the nation and won three state championships while maintaining a 4.0 average.
While studying engineering at Stanford University, she helped the Cardinal earn a third-place finish at the 2012 NCAA Cross Country Championship.
And after she moved to Boise, she took first place in the notoriously difficult Race to Robie Creek while tackling the notoriously difficult career path of an entrepreneur.
Lacy credits her background as a student athlete for the success she’s achieved with the company she founded with Corbin Hennen and Rob Kleffner. Lumineye was born out of a Hacking for Defense class at Boise State University’s Venture College to solve a Department of Defense challenge: Create a radar sensor device to help soldiers and first responders identify people and threats through walls.
Their work has garnered accolades and prize money at several major competitions, including a $120,000 grant through the Army’s xTechSearch 2.0 and the opportunity to compete for another $250,000 in funding in October. They also earned top honors at two competitions in 2018: the Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge and the Boise Startup Week pitch contest, with a total of $23,000 in prize money.
We sat down with Megan and Corbin to learn more about their entrepreneurial path, including how they persevere and stay positive on their innovation journey as well as their top advice for aspiring business owners.
Names: Megan Lacy, 25; Corbin Hennen, 26; and Rob Kleffner, 26
Hometown: Megan grew up in Marlton, N.J. Corbin has lived in Boise since he was nine and Rob grew up in Meridian.
Megan: Bachelor’s degree in Product Design Engineering, Stanford University
Corbin: Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Physics, University of Idaho
Rob: Master’s degree in Computer Science, Northwestern University; bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Computer Science, University of Idaho
Megan: I was a lifeguard and swim instructor at a local pool.
Corbin: I started a pet sitting business when I was 12.
Rob: My first job was a software development internship with Metageek in Boise.
Why did you start Lumineye?
Corbin: We met in class at Boise State’s Venture College as part of Boise States first Hacking for Defense (H4D) program. I went to the H4D Educator’s course and paired up with special operations command. Their problem statement was: how do we identify humans via radio frequencies. We found that there really weren’t existing solutions that met the needs of the users after we talked to them.
Megan: The existing options are not used mostly because of their weight and cost. They don’t provide useful information and they don’t have high accuracy rates.
Corbin: We got a call from the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division. They had tried a dozen devices and wanted to see what they could do to help. There are a lot of physics issues in making it smaller. We decided to make the company because there was nothing out there.
We’re in the research and development phase; we spent the first year learning everything. The first device will be simple but will be competitively priced…taking advantage of commercial off-the-shelf hardware. Our first prototype was 20 ft3. It’s progressively gotten simpler and simpler over time. We’re trying to make a practical product that will fit in their bag – more affordable and less cumbersome.
What was the biggest obstacle on your journey to becoming a small business owner?
Corbin: It’s really hard – you have to be relentless. It’s an endless stream of fires, and your job is to identify and take care of the biggest fires that are going to kill you.
Megan – Keeping up morale is really hard, too, because you get punched in the stomach a lot.
Corbin - Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator (early-stage startup accelerator), said the vast majority of companies that fail do so because they didn’t go long enough to really prove out their concept. We keep progressing.
What has been the biggest blind spot on your journey as a small business owner?
Megan: I wish I would have known how long it was going to take.
What is one key piece of advice that has helped your journey as a small business owner?
Corbin: Getting told by radar expert that rather than reinvent the wheel on the radar module, we should use already existing commercial-off-the-shelf radar modules and focus on signal analysis. That was a turning point. It changed us from pure research to research and development.
Name one thing that prepared you for being a small business owner?
Megan: Sports. I was a D1 athlete and was very accustomed to being super busy. I don’t function super well when I’m not really busy. I function on a really high level of stress. I prefer to have a fully planned out day, work-wise.
Corbin: My parents, who have a company that sells microfiber detailing towels worldwide. We also had surrogate grandparents that had built out a number of businesses, and we spent summers working for them — everything from working the front desk to doing laundry.
Megan: He’s curious. He wouldn’t work as well in corporate environment.
What’s your best piece of advice for aspiring innovators?
Megan: Focusing is really important. You know your business and you need to surround yourself with people who are supportive of your decisions and don’t distract. Advice is cheap.
Corbin: People push to go fast, but is it better to blaze ahead with VC money or bootstrap your business? It’s definitely a lot harder to bootstrap, but there are a lot of benefits. The bootstrapping forces us to make a lot of decisions that end up saving a lot of time and money whereas with early VC investment we could have easily burned capital.
Megan: You should be able to take painful advice. It hurts when people say (our product) isn’t as good as what’s out there, but that’s because this is a prototype. It feels like you are getting kicked in the shins because it’s your baby.
Looking to follow in Megan and Corbin’s footsteps and bring your own innovation to market? Zions Bank offers online tools including business templates, columns, videos and financial calculators. Our Business Resource Centers in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Boise, Idaho, provide counseling and training for entrepreneurs.
Nicola McIntosh is social media manager for Zions Bank.