This post originally appeared on the Harbert College of Business News Center.
Zac Young, a student in Auburn’s Entrepreneurship Program, resident in the New Venture Accelerator, and senior in Mechanical Engineering, found a way to make power lines safer for linesmen to install, more effective and cost-efficient. Using lessons learned from the entrepreneurship offerings afforded him by Auburn University and the Harbert College of Business, Young is able to cultivate his business idea.
“To be a successful entrepreneur, you not only have to have a great idea, you must also be able to convince other people that you have a great idea,” he said. Monday, October 26, he convinced a panel of industry-professional judges that his business plan was top-notch and took first place and a $5,000 prize in the virtual SEC Pitch Competition. Young, owner of Vulcan Line Tools, created the Wave Timer — a small device that measures sag, tension and the temperature of power lines in a matter of seconds.
“I am super excited to have represented Auburn and win the SEC Pitch Competition!” said the Birmingham native. “I am so thankful for my mentors and family who have coached me up over the past few weeks to get my pitch honed in. There were a lot of great entrepreneurs in the competition and it was fun being able to hear all of their ideas. The judges offered up some great questions and gave me some really good advice that I will use moving forward.
“I cannot begin to explain how much Auburn and the Accelerator program has helped and prepared me for this competition. I’ve only been in the Accelerator program for about three weeks, but I’ve learned more in those three weeks about business, entrepreneurship, and pitching a product than I have in my entire life. The amount of support and advice I’ve received from Scott McGlon (Entrepreneur-in-Residence), Lou Bifano (Director of Entrepreneurship Strategy), Phil Fraher (Entrepreneur-in-Residence), and Dr. Franz Lohrke has been astounding. They have helped me out so much and I am so thankful for them. They have gladly offered up the little spare time they have to assist me in preparing for this competition. Thank you Auburn!”
Young said it’s crucial in the industry to properly install power lines to the correct tension and sag because that ensures the lines meet the National Electric Safety Code and are not going to overstress hardware on the power poles,.
“Right now, the current methods of sagging conductors make it difficult for electric utilities to properly construct power lines to the correct specifications,” he added. “The purpose of this device is to make their jobs a lot easier and ensure that the power lines that are designed are the ones that are being built.
Young, whose father has worked in the utilities industry for years, shares the family interest – which ultimately sparked his idea.
“He told me there was a huge disconnect between what was being designed and what was actually built,” Young said. “I decided there had to be an easy way to measure sag, tension, and temperature in power lines. Researching this led to me discovering a document written in the 1930s, which showed that by using a stopwatch, sag and tension could be measured in seconds in a tensioned line. Thus, the idea for the Wave Timer was born.”
Creating a product is one thing. Building a business plan was another. Time spent at the newly-opened New Venture Accelerator played a tremendous role in Young’s business development. Located within the Research and Innovation Center at the Auburn Research Park, the New Venture Accelerator features 7,000 square feet of office space dedicated to student and faculty startups, areas for team collaboration, and opportunities to meet with veteran, in-house entrepreneurs.
“The mentors have coached me up on my pitch, given me great tips, and have made sure that I am able to convey the problem my company solves in an effective and timely manner,” Young added. “I cannot tell you how awesome it is to be able to work with mentors that have decades of experience in startups, businesses, and entrepreneurship.
“I’m able to communicate with other startups. I met Mr. McGlon, and in a one-hour meeting with him, I learned more about business and startups than I had my whole life.”
McGlon considers Young to be “one of our bright young stars in the New Venture Accelerator.”
“He worked extremely hard over the last few weeks to bring the top prize back to Auburn! I’m very proud of him,” McGlon added. “We had five other teams in the Accelerator that assisted Zac on delivering the best pitch in the SEC. This is exactly what being in an accelerator is all about and I’m really excited to see the collaboration between the startup teams this early on!”
Young said that Vulcan Line Tools would also not exist without the time spent in the College of Engineering.
“More than anything, studying to become an engineer has taught me how to problem-solve,” he said. “Problem-solving is the biggest reason I have been able to succeed as an entrepreneur and is the reason the Wave Timer is about to hit the market. The amount of roadblocks, stumbles, and issues that I have had to work through in order to develop the Wave Timer has been astounding. Without the problem solving skills I gained from Engineering, new lessons learned from other entrepreneurs, and some grit, I would have given up a long time ago.”