Arun Gupta ’10 wants to end cranky mornings for good.
Gupta, along with co-founder Greg Nemeth, a junior at Boston College, have developed a prototype for WakeSmart, a device that wakes its user up at an optimal time in the sleep cycle. Gupta and Nemeth developed their business plan this summer during the 10-week Yale Entrepreneurial Institute’s Summer Fellowship program — which was established to foster student enterprise — and are now working to secure funding for their product.
Although competing products exist, Nemeth said, WakeSmart has its own niche market because the wristband is connected to cell phones and not Bluetooth-capable alarm clocks.
Gupta said he originally got the idea for WakeSmart while he was in high school. Some days, he was alert for tennis practice, while he was groggy on others. After researching this phenomenon, he discovered that those who wake during REM sleep, as opposed to waking at other phases of the sleep cycle, may be able to start the day feeling more energetic.
The prototype of WakeSmart is a wristband with motion sensors that relays information via Bluetooth to a cell phone alarm. People make different hand movements during sleep. Based on those movements, the cell phone alarm will go off during the optimal time within a 20-minute window.
“When you enter REM sleep, you enter a state of paralysis, so you are not moving,” Nemeth said. “When you enter periods of arousal, you make short, quick movements. Our algorithm isolates these moments and differentiates between turning in sleep and these points of arousal.”
Gupta said he considered other means to detect this optimal REM point — including measuring breathing, brain waves and a heart rate — but he ultimately decided on the wristband model because it was the most cost-effective and the easiest to use, he said.
Current projections estimate that materials will cost $6-8 per unit during mass production.
The WakeSmart business model developed during the 2008 YEI summer program — a “boot camp” for student entrepreneurship — currently in its second year, said YEI Deputy Director Shana Schneider ’00. Gupta and Nemeth were two of 12 fellows who spent their summer in New Haven to develop their respective business models.
“It started out at the beginning really still as an idea,” Schneider said of the WakeSmart model. “At the end, they actually had a working prototype with a business plan and a presentation.”
Currently, Gupta and Nemeth are working on acquiring seed funding, the logistical step businesses face once they have a plan and a concrete idea of where things are going, Nemeth said. Both students have approached so-called “angel investors,” who can provide anywhere from $50,000 to $500,000.
Gupta said he met many of his contacts through YEI, and two new contributors have jumped on board to assist with the technology. An engineer at MIT helped design four or five prototypes of a more compact product. Moreover, Dr. Robert Stickgold, of the Harvard Medical Center has helped the group incorporate the latest research on REM sleep into the watch’s algorithm.
Although college students may be prime targets for this product, a handful of Yalies remain skeptical.
“I don’t doubt there is some effect,” Apoorva Tiwari ’11 said. “But I don’t know if it’s enough to add more technology to your day. You will still be sleep deprived whether you woke up 10 minutes earlier or later.”
Avani Dholakia ’09 had a more economic perspective.
“I would definitely buy the product because your time sleeping wasn’t a waste,” she said. “If you wake up tired after taking a nap, it was not efficient to take a nap.”
Nemeth said users would need a minimum of four hours to use the device if they are aiming for a full night’s sleep. They will soon also work on a napping feature, which would require 60 to 80 minutes of rest for the completion of one REM cycle.