Eli Harris has been on the path to blend engineering and entrepreneurship for a long time. His curiosity was sparked in his childhood, cultivated through classes at UT, and put into action via his own company, CyberDynamite.
“My grandfather was an electrician, so he was always showing me little projects he built when I was a kid,” said Harris, now a senior in computer science. “From that point on, I remember always being fascinated with technology, but I was especially interested in how the software worked.”
His grandfather’s examples and his own fascination led Harris to closely follow the rising popularity of mobile apps as he was growing up. The catch phrase “There’s an app for that” continues to ring true as the variety of these tools grows—email, social media, calculators, and so on.
“I have always been an entrepreneur at heart, and I knew I couldn’t miss out on the modern-day gold rush,” said Harris, who developed his first app while still in high school.
“I had the idea to convert our grade system into an app,” he said. The school’s system required students to log in via computer to check their grades, and Harris saw the need for an ability to chart progress on the go.
“A month later, I released my first app—SchoolGrades,” he said. “It was a huge success, and I profited about $5,000 from the sales. This sparked my hunger to learn more about what I could accomplish.”
Harris enrolled as a freshman in Professor Lee Martin’s EF130 Intro to Engineering Entrepreneurship class—a course within the college’s Minor in Engineering Entrepreneurship—and heard success stories from several business owners in the Knoxville area.
“I was able to see that starting a business isn’t as intimidating as it seems,” said Harris. “All it takes is an idea that fills a need in the marketplace. You learn how to operate a business along the way, but making the jump is always the most intimidating part.”
His computer-science studies focus on the high-demand field of cybersecurity, and that’s the direction he sees for CyberDynamite. Their biggest client so far is a company called EventBooking that offers a variety of software for venues that feature music and other types of ticketed entertainment.
Harris developed an app called UPAGO to securely sell so-called “distressed” tickets. Lesser-known performing artists often might not sell out their shows, leaving many unfilled seats as the showdate approaches.
“UPAGO aims to solve this issue by creating an experience where customers can ‘pay what they want’ for tickets, and a venue/promoter is either able to accept or deny their offer,” explained Harris. “People who were unwilling to pay full price can still have the opportunity to go, and more tickets are able to be sold, so both parties win.”
The long-term plan for CyberDynamite includes maintaining business relationships through equity positions within their developed products.
“This allows the company to build value and provides long term positive cash flow,” said Harris. “Creating software for other people definitely pays the bills, but if you are just cashing checks and parting ways, you aren’t building any long-term value.”
His mix of a well-engineered product and an insightful business plan should keep this Engineering Vol moving forward on his entrepreneurial path.