A University of Akron student is working to make sure his hookah dreams don't go up in smoke.
The business student, David Samipour Pakdehi, 20, has come up with an alternative way to heat hookah tobacco by using electricity. Traditionally, hookah smokers use charcoal briquettes, which increase exposure to carbon monoxide.
Another issue with the charcoal: It sits at the top of the hookah, and the hot coals can get knocked off the pipe, burning tables and carpets.
Recently, Samipour Pakdehi won the top prize – $10,000 — in the latest in a series of UA student startup challenges, where finalists pitch their ideas to a panel of judges — a la the ABC television show "Shark Tank."
Another student, Michael Spade, 23, won a $1,000 prize in the same contest for pitching a product deemed most ready to be sold on eBay.
Spade calls his product Duck Armour,an all-natural salve used to protect and waterproof leather boots that get heavy use, such as those used by construction workers.
The money for this award came from eBay, the online commerce company, which is building on its new relationship with the city.
Earlier this year, eBay launched Retail Revival in Akron, helping local business to market products and services on eBay. The company, headquartered in Silicon Valley, also is paying UA students to work as interns with Retail Revival participants.
The UA startup competitions — this latest one was the third — are designed to “galvanize entrepreneurship at the university,” said Anoo Vyas, organizer of the challenges and co-director of the university’s EXL Center.
“A lot of our entrepreneurs in the city are going to come from the university,” he said. The challenges are one way to help create “an ecosystem on campus that can lead to commercialization [of product], startups."
The challenges involve a lot more than a business idea pitch contest. Students spend a semester learning about marketing, legal issues facing startups, testing products in a target market and more. They also learn about various local resources for startups, including Bounce Innovation Hub, previously called the Akron Global Business Accelerator, in the former B.F. Goodrich factory complex in downtown Akron.
“To see how far the students have come in a semester, it just blows my mind,” Vyas said.
Samipour Pakdehi doesn’t smoke hookah, so he seems like an unlikely person to develop a way to heat shisha — hookah tobacco.
But he used to smoke it, he said, explaining that his family is from Iran, where the use of hookahs is a centuries-old tradition. “And I saw the opportunities … the coals were probably the most annoying and dangerous part of the entire process.”
He plans to use the $10,000 to work on another prototype of the electric heating system product and to help turn it into a commercially viable product.
There are already electric heating systems for hookah smoking on the market. But Samipour Pakdehi is confident the features of his system will smoke the competition.
Samipour Pakdehi, who grew up in northern Virginia, chose to study at UA because his sister attends the school and talked highly of it.
Spade, who is working on a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, calls his Duck Armour “boot grease.” His father, a truck driver, came up with the invention.
“He’d be in these gravel lots with puddles and he got tired of his feet getting wet,” said Spade, who is from Crestline, in northwestern Ohio.
Spade worked on construction sites as part of his undergraduate mechanical engineering studies. He said his father saw him beating up work boots and gave him some of the salve.
The product worked so well, Spade said, he told his dad, "You need to make this and people will buy it.' ”
Duck Armour, which comes in a tin, is applied in an unusual way. First you heat it over low heat, using a candle warmer or placing the tin on a stove top. After swabbing it on the boot with a wet rag, you work it into the leather by applying heat, using a blow dryer or heat vent. It will darken leather, the directions caution.
Spade entered the product — which is made with a proprietary recipe — in one of last year’s startup challenges. He wasn’t a finalist and vowed to work on his pitch — and the product — and re-enter.
Soon, he plans to have his product for sale online, and he's already thinking about ways to tweak it so it appeals to those wanting to treat dress shoes.
UA student Michelle Cappetto, 29, was one of the finalists, winning $800. Cappetto is a therapist with a private practice and is a doctoral student studying marriage and family therapy. Her pitch was about a program — dubbed Private Practice Pathways — that she has created to teach students and therapists skills helpful in running a private practice.
"Many therapists who leave the university and go straight into agencies, they are getting extremely low pay and that leads to burnout," she said.
"I wanted to find a way to reduce burnout," showing therapists how to run their own practice, she said.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or email@example.com. You can follow her @KatieByardABJ on Twitter or on Facebook.