Teen entrepreneurs see success with code and mirrors

14 Dec 2020

Jack O’Regan Kenny and Alice Shaughnessy. Image: Mirr

Mirr, a start-up turning the mirror into a smart device, emerged from this year’s Patch accelerator for young entrepreneurs.

Mirr is a tech start-up founded by two first-year engineering students, Alice Shaughnessy and Jack O’Regan Kenny. Call it a smart mirror or a reflective tablet, Mirr is a device that lets users stream Netflix, listen to Spotify or check the weather while maintaining a reflective surface on screen space that’s not in use.

The teen entrepreneurs see themselves as role models for what can come from youth engagement in STEM activities.

Shaughnessy, now an engineering student at NUI Galway, has won awards at the BT Young Scientist and SciFest events, and competed internationally. She was a finalist at this year’s International Science and Engineering Fair and also placed third in Hong Kong’s Global Youth Science and Technology Bowl.

“I’ve always had a passion for different aspects of STEM,” she told Siliconrepublic.com.

Mirr co-founder O’Regan Kenny has also had successes at SciFest and BT Young Scientist, as well as student enterprise competitions. A TU Dublin mechatronic engineering student from Mullingar, Co Westmeath, he said he has been “immersed in the world of technology” since he joined CoderDojo at age 10. “I love to always be involved in making things!” he added.

‘I love to always be involved in making things!’

Mirr began as a project of O’Regan Kenny’s, which won Best Commercial Potential in the senior category at the 2019 Student Enterprise Awards. He went on to meet Shaughnessy at the Patch accelerator over the summer. Hosted by Dogpatch Labs and supported by Stripe, Patch is a six-week accelerator especially for teen entrepreneurs.

The early-stage company that emerged from Patch then went on to compete in the international remote Pioneer accelerator, where it reached the top 10 participants in Europe and was among the top 30 globally.

More recently, Mirr was accepted into Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers programme at TU Dublin, which awarded the team a place on a six-month programme along with €15,000 for further development.

Concept image of Mirr, a reflective touchscreen set in a wooden frame displaying information such as the weather.

Image: Mirr

The main target market for Mirr is users who would benefit from a device that would allow them to apply make-up while watching a tutorial in the mirror. But Shaughnessy contends that consumers will find a multiplicity of use cases for Mirr, particularly any kind of multitasking that requires both a mirror and access to online media.

The pair used an ARM-based single-board computer to power the device. An infrared sensor array mounted within the frame above an LCD creates a line of sight which, when broken, detects a touchpoint. This is used over a capacitive screen while every effort has been made to achieve the most mirror-like surface possible.

At this stage, Shaughnessy and O’Regan Kenny are hand-making the Mirr devices to sell to early adopters, building up revenue to begin batch production, at which point they plan to start actively seeking investors.

‘Go for it, pursue your goal. Worst-case scenario, you learn from your mistakes’

Breaking into the manufacturing world has been difficult for the young inventors, who have encountered plenty of barriers to entry. They said a lot of their time is spent requesting quotes from suppliers that don’t always come, though they’ve found that persistence is key.

In terms of finding inspiration from other homegrown start-ups, Shaughnessy points to Spotlight Oral Care as “an inspiration as they’ve successfully launched globally”.

She advised other young entrepreneurs to take the chance if they have an idea. “Just go for it, pursue your goal. Worst-case scenario, you learn from your mistakes. And there are thousands of people that have done this before – approach people for help. More often than not, people are more than willing to give great, although sometimes conflicting, advice,” she said.

And the originator of Mirr believes the entrepreneurial journey is best suited to something you’re passionate about. “Make sure you enjoy it,” said O’Regan Kennedy. “Find someone to work with you that makes the time enjoyable and lets you spread the work. Although I already enjoyed working on Mirr, since Alice joined it’s been even better. You can bounce ideas around and have a laugh at the same time.”

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.