From Startup Idea to Working Prototype in 40 Hours? Meet Henry Wong

Unless your vehicle is less than 15 years old, it’s unlikely it has a rear-view camera with dashboard display built in. Rear-view / back-up cameras will be required on newly manufactured automobiles starting with the 2018 model-year, which leaves the vast majority of cars, over 200 million in the US alone,  without a camera or backup sensor. 80% of cars don’t have rear cameras or sensors, while 15,000 injuries occur per year due to slow-speed accidents (according to the NHTSA.) It’s worth noting that older-model cars are more likely to be driven by people most in need of reverse-visuals, such as new and inexperienced drivers, or those such as seniors with impaired ability to turn towards the rear of the vehicle while reversing.

In November 2014, 10 people, who’d met for the first time at Startup Weekend Kirkland, teamed up to find a solution for preventing accidents caused by vehicles without rear-display capabilities.

The Fensens Team at Startup Weekend Kirkland during judging final competition
The Fensens Team at Startup Weekend Kirkland

After-market technology is needed to close this gap. The team’s solution was a  wireless device for vehicles, using a universal standard mount on an easily-attached license-plate frame, returning visual, audible and tactile feedback to the driver’s smartphone (using Bluetooth technology.)

During the Startup Weekend over the course of two days, members of the Fensens team surveyed 120 people at local retail shops. They used social media and surveys to gather additional info. Of those surveyed, 82% lacked either a sensor or rear camera in their vehicles and all were willing to pay over $100 for an after-market unit.

I reached out to Henry Wong, who led the team and is also serving as a judge at Health Startup Weekend  in May for this interview:

Q: How are things going for the team and product now, 3 months later? What are your future plans?

A: Things are going well.  We’ve created a Fensens LLC, added marketing personnel, and have a subset of the original team working on improving the product and app as a version 2 minimal viable product.  We are in the process of filing a provisional patent from my original idea back in Oct 2014.  I’ve been invited as a guest speaker by Kirkland Chamber of Commerce in April to talk about the nature of being an entrepreneur and the startup experience.

Q: Competition is a given: what makes your model distinct from other aftermarket backup sensors on the market?

A: Our product and solution is unique because it is a first in class wireless sensor that can be easily installed and used in 5 min, on any vehicle, by consumers, without going through an aftermarket professional installer.

Q: How many jobs do you anticipate this product creating?

A: We’re not sure yet at this moment.  If it takes off, we will definitely need people to help grow and expand the success.  We’re focusing 1 step at a time.

Q: Are you considering a crowdfunding option for development?

A: Yes, the team is planning to do a Kickstarter to further validate the solution with our version 2 minimal viable product.

Q: Would you recommend Startup Weekend to anyone with an idea?

A: Yes, I would highly recommend Startup Weekend to anyone who has an idea or entrepreneur itch.  If you’re a person who watches Shark Tank and say to yourself, “I have an idea,” then Startup Weekend is a great place to start – it is like a mini-Shark Tank.  My original reason for doing the Startup Weekend was just to see and experience what startup is all about from ground zero.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think we were going to win 1st place out of a field full of talented people, especially our first time doing it.

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Fensens wins Kirkland Startup Weekend 2014 with every car owner's dream

Image of Fensens Team from Kirkland Startup Weekend Makers Edition 2014

The organizers of Startup Weekend Kirkland have a pretty clear idea what made our event awesome, and why Fensens won first place, but we thought it would be far more interesting to hear from the winners themselves.

Fensens realized that nearly every driver has a problem, with crowded parking lots, blind driveways, and the tragic stories you hear about parents driving into their children playing on their driveways. They wanted to prevent these accidents, and after conducting research, they pulled up some staggering figures-that 80% of cars don’t have sensors, and there are 15,000 injuries per year due to slow-speed accidents, according to the NHTSA.

Their solution was a first-in-class, smart, wireless solution for vehicles on a universal standard mount, which would provide visual, audible and tactile feedback.

During the 54 hours of Kirkland Startup Weekend Maker’s Edition, members of the Fensens team surveyed 120 people, including 100 at Safeway, Costco, and Bellevue Square as well as other Startup Weekend participants. They also reached out to people on Facebook, LinkedIn and through Survey Monkey. Of those surveyed, 82% don’t have sensors in their vehicles, and the majority were willing to pay $100.00 for the Fensens device. Some were wiling to pay as much as $500 to $1,000!

At the end of the day, everyone thought the idea was not just awesome, but could also save lives, reduce insurance costs, and give car users peace of mind.  Thus, the tagline, “A World Without Fender Benders.”

Congratulations to the Winning Team

Henry Wong (Founder)  |  Ben Foster (Engineering) | Mohammad Juma (Engineering) | Miki Nguyen (Management) | Charlie Yan (Mobile Development) | Phongsakorn Liewsrisuk (Engineering) | Jian Ma (Engineering) | Alex Ching (Mechanical/PCB) | Shanika Weerasundara (Marketing) | Ngoc-Khuyen (Quinn) Tran (Marketing) | Jennifer Commodore (Marketing) | Misaki Yamashita (Marketing).

Henry Wong, Founder, Fensens

How Does it Feel to Win a Lottery?

When asked to describe the experience, Henry Wong, Fensens founder, had this to say:

No, I did not get rich but I am on cloud 9 – and that is priceless!

On November 14-16, 2014, I attended Startup Weekend Maker’s Edition at Kirkland, WA. I’ve had an itch to take some ideas in my brain and make it into a product/business. My reason for participating was to taste the start-up from ground zero, see what does it feel like, and for fun. I had no expectation going into it, and frankly I was not aware it was a competition till the second day. I thought it was just a group of random people working together to build something from scratch – and that experience itself is why I signed up.

About 140 attendees, 45 ideas pitched, and 15 teams formed. The top 3 winners were judged by a group of very successful panels in the technology industry.

No one on my team, including myself, expected we would win, let alone come in first place because there were also other great ideas, and talented people and teams.

To see the expression and smile on my team’s face when they announced “Fensens” as the 1st place winner was a truly unbelievable feeling and experience. I am still speechless, stoked, excited, happy, and smiling (big) this week. I am sure everyone on my team is having the same feeling too.

This past weekend has to be one of the best memorable experience in my life! I want to thank my team in believing in my idea and the product. We focused, executed, and nailed the pitch and demo. I hope to be on cloud 9 as long as I can from this weekend.

We asked Henry why he thought his team came first

My 17+ years of diverse experience in technology and consumer electronics industry really helped.  I had a well thought-out idea and product in mind and an understanding of the market for this product. Finally, I was lucky enough to have a really good team to execute the idea and the product.

We think he’s right.  Henry tells us that being the founder of the product and the team has been a bit stressful because you have to think about EVERYTHING.  But that hasn’t stopped him. His team is thinking about doing a KickStarter campaign early in 2015.  We think they have a winning product.

If you would like to contact Henry you can!  on Twitter at @tech_henrywong or on LinkedIn.

We also want to congratulate our other winners

In second place the Connected Backpack team designed a “modern backpack for tech gear” that brings the standard backpack into the 21st century.

The Team

Jan Wanot | Dan Echo | Nicky Li | Surya Jakhotia | Nick Franklin | Chris Williams | Andrew Rangel | Andrew Vincent | Shea O’Leary | Philip Roe

Our third place winner, EsperLINQ! developed a wearable device that provides on-the-go support for people in recovery. This team has promised to move forward with their product so that more people can successfully manage their program.

The Team

Daniela Tudor | Jodi Lasky | Ian Lenny | Scott Doerrie | Jacob Kukuk | Jen Mallory | Martin Ishihara | Jimmy Taylor | Andrea Repka | Dan Tebbs | Jason Jastillana