For most of us, laptops are our ubiquitous companion in life. We wake up with them, take them to school or work, use them to socialize. Many of us take them to bed at night.
But according to a report by Digital Citizens Alliance, as malware becomes increasingly pervasive, our laptops are vulnerable to prying eyes. Especially if they have built-in cameras.
Hackers are targeting young people on websites they frequent, turning on the webcam when users aren’t aware, reports the alliance.
That alarming report was the inspiration for Holly Steinberg and Nicole Bremer, both age 18 and students at Ransom Everglades in Coconut Grove. The business plan for CamBlok!, a simple product designed to foil digital hackers by covering the computer’s camera, scored second place in the Teen Track of the 2019 Miami Herald Startup Pitch Competition.
After reading that 70 percent of personal computer hacks are meant to infiltrate your web camera, Bremer initially turned to makeshift security measures.
“I had a little sticker over my computer’s camera,” Bremer said. “But it became a hassle when I was using it, and after a while it started to bug me.”
In her engineering class, Bremer was working with 3-D software and realized it presented an opportunity for her AP class in Macro Economics/Micro Economics, taught by Jennifer Nero.
“In Micro Economics, we look at topics such as consumer behavior,” explained Nero. “We do a rigorous unit on business plan development, so this was really a nice fit.”
Bremer teamed up with Steinberg to research what was already on the market. They found existing devices were unattractive, bulky or poor quality. They wanted something that would be compatible with various laptop designs and sizes, that could be engraved with initials or logos, and that could be offered in an array of colors.
Steinberg and Bremer researched their target demographic, 16 to 22-year-olds, and found there was a desire for the product. Their research identified $3 to $7 as an acceptable price for CamBlok! (Adults were willing to pay more).
For their business plan, the team calculated costs based on custom designs that could be printed on-demand with a 3-D printer. The main investment was the one-time cost of a 3-D printer, and $.038 per unit for filament, plus labor. The downside: A single unit required about 30 minutes of production time.
“3-D printing for a smaller business is great,” Steinberg said. “But as our company is scaled we could get more efficient.” For larger orders, bulk manufacturing would require $300 in up-front for production but then just $0.05 per unit.
Steinberg and Bremer calculated that their largest expense would be marketing through social media and Amazon, costs that would increase by $100,000 annually. Selling through Amazon would net the partners 70 percent of each CamBlok! sale.
Their plan showed them breaking even by the end of the first year, with a net profit of 37 percent by the end of the third year.
“I felt it was a potential winner because of the elegant simplicity of the product, and the way in which Holly and Nicole pitched the idea,” Nero said. The judges agreed.
Steinberg will attend Tulane University this fall and pursue a business degree. Bremer is deciding between New York University and Wake Forest and then plans to continue on to medical school.