Monday, August 28, 2006

Jonathan Fisher: Lunenberg wunderkind

We came to know Jonathan Fischer and his father, Dick, through Dick's repeated and intelligent contacts with our editor, George Donelly. Jonathan Fischer is a 17-year-old teenager in Lunenberg, MA, who has created a speed-tracking device for teenagers, and his father wants to help him promote it. As a result of Dick's efforts, he's made it into all kinds of press (we got the first access) and will be on television tomorrow to talk about his award. This also led me to meet Jonathan Clark, whom you will notice is in 2 of my articles. The full article is as follows:


Inventor's speed-tracking device wins national award

With the slogan "Live Fast, Drive Slow," Jon Fischer, 17, has landed himself in the fast lane of innovation with a prototype of an invention to alert parents when their teenagers are speeding.

Called the "Speed Demon," the dashboard-mounted device communicates via the Internet to show the time and location of speeding incidents on a simple Google map.


Fischer's invention took first prize in the National Federation of Independent Business Young Entrepreneur Foundation "Plan for the Future" competition in late June. Bill Vernon, the Massachusetts state director of NFIB, said he saw promise in the product and introduced Fischer to Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey.

"It's not often that someone comes into my office with something that I personally would like to buy," said Healey, who has a 14-year-old son. "His invention cuts to the heart of the anxiety parents feel about new teen drivers."

Fischer first created the speed-monitoring device for a science fair project after a high-speed crash in 2001 killed a high schooler in Fischer's home town of Lunenberg.

For the logistics, Fischer approached his father's friend and employer Jonathan Clark, owner of Sine-Wave Technologies Inc., a custom software company whose clients include the U.S. military. Using global positioning system technology, Sine-Wave developed an interface for Fischer's prototype that allow parents to go online and see, on a Google-powered satellite map, every time the driver exceeds the speed limit or shows a burst in speed between 40 and 60 mph.

While the Speed Demon could provide the driver's position via GPS at all times, making full-time parental surveillance technically possible, the 17-year-old inventor was sensitive to friends' complaints about this possible invasion of privacy. But he may add the feature eventually.

"A lot of the kids I've talked to are like, 'You're building a program to keep tabs on us,' " he said. "But even though I'm helping parents keep tabs on them, I'm also helping to protect kids." His original idea would leverage their need for independence against their need for speed, he said, so that it would put them on their parents' radar only if they were breaking the rules of the road.

After winning the state science fair, Fischer entered the plan in the Mt. Wachusett Community College Business Plan Competition and won. With the money, he updated the Speed Demon and entered it in the NFIB competition, where he beat out hundreds of entrants, including many from college students, according to Hank Kopcial, executive director of the NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation.

"We were impressed with the fact that once the product became known, he probably took some criticism from his friends. These are his peers that he was setting up to be watched carefully," Kopcial said. "But when you think about the lives that could be saved, it was a pretty good thing to do. So he swam against the tide."

With his $7,500 in seed money winnings, Fischer is planning for Speed Demon's commercial release in the fall. It will be sold for about $150 through his Web site, www.livefastdriveslow.com.

The latest version will allow Speed Demon to call or e-mail parents in real time when their child is over the speed limit -- and to notify them of any tampering with the device. Fischer is also working on patent-pending software that would use algorithms to distinguish between highway speeding and back road speeding.

With seed money and sharp-looking business cards, Fischer is poised to become one of the country's youngest CEOs. For now, he just finished a stint at the U.S. Olympic Training Camp for skiing and is looking forward to returning to the world of business -- which, he said, is "easier."

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