founder: Greg Umhoefer
founded: February 2018
Product: Private phone call device
goal: Raise $25,000 on Kickstarter
experience: Umhoefer worked in actuarial consulting at Ernst & Young for five years and then as chief financial officer at PingPong Financial.
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When Greg Umhoefer worked in actuarial consulting at Ernst & Young, he was on a business trip to New York and working out of the firm’s open concept office there.
“I was getting a phone call from my girlfriend…and I want to have a conversation with her but it’s super weird, I think, to have personal calls with lots of co-workers around,” Umhoefer said.
Searching for a vacant conference room or stairwell was an option, but Umhoefer started thinking about a more comfortable alternative: A device that would allow someone to have a private conversation without leaving their desk, or in any public place.
In June 2017, Umhoefer began using a 3D printer to create a prototype of the voice mask he envisioned, which he calls Bloxvox. Seventy-five iterations later, he thinks he has the perfect shape and design to block sound from leaving the device, while picking up the speaker’s voice with good sound quality. Umhoefer has a utility patent pending on the shape.
“If you’re in a typical office environment where there’s some background noise, maybe some air conditioning noise or traffic on the street, eight feet away you pretty much won’t be able to hear” with the Bloxvox on, Umhoefer said.
The Bloxvox is made of two materials: A rigid plastic and a rubberlike material that creates a comfortable fit against the user’s face. A slit in the device allows the user’s headphone cord microphone to be inserted.
“There are a couple of, I call them indirect competitors, basically devices with a microphone built in, and they retail at about $300,” Umhoefer said. “This will have a price point well below $100. It’s basically a simpler, more mechanical device. It incorporates the microphone from your headphones.”
So far, Umhoefer has bootstrapped the startup and has one unnamed investor.
Now, he’s launching a Kickstarter campaign May 22 to raise $25,000 to make the injection molds and complete a production run of Bloxvox devices.
“I’m in talks with a couple of plastic injection molding companies in southeast Wisconsin. I’m going to do my best to get it made here,” Umhoefer said. “If that happens, then the goal would be to work toward it becoming a mainstream office tool.”