Diamond in the rough


Pan and Yang stand in front of the Conrad Challenge backdrop. The pair submitted their product, BACVision, to multiple competitions during their junior year. Photo courtesy of Motoko Schimizu.

Miriam Antony and Keertana Senthilkumar

Months of brainstorming and research. Late nights reviewing proposals and perfecting presentations. It all accumulated to one submission. A winning submission. 

Getting Started

In the 2019 Diamond Challenge, seniors Philip Pan and Mia Yang won over $13,000 in prize money and more importantly, they gained business experience. Their company, BACVision measures blood alcohol content (BAC) through ocular metrics, or tracking eye movement and pupil dilation through video clips of a person’s face.

“Mia and I originally decided to create our product because we wanted to use our technical skills from TJ to create something in real life with tangible impacts on our community,” Pan said.

In sophomore year, both Pan and Yang participated in Launch X, an online course from MIT that educates young entrepreneurs. The pair met and discussed ideas for a company over the summer. 

“We were starting to go out and and noticing things about how dangerous the roads could be, and specifically we pinpointed drunk driving as a hazard that affects a lot of people,” Yang said.

 Creating a Company 

One of the most intensive parts of the project was the background research. 

“It’s hard to innovate in an industry that hasn’t really seen any innovation for a significant amount of time, so researching the tech and science behind our product definitely took a lot of time,” Pan said.

They came up with a way to measure pupillary light reflex, the tendency of pupils to dilate once a person consumes alcohol. They also used a method already used by law enforcement, horizontal gaze nystagmus, to measure minute vibrations in a person’s eye after alcohol consumption.

“Essentially what we’re looking to do is correlate varying levels of these two metrics to specific blood alcohol content models in the future,” Pan said.

The two used their expertise in different areas of the product design and technical fields. 

“We combined our strengths to come up with the business and improve,” Yang said.

Many will Enter, Few will Win

Then came the daunting part: applying for challenges. Pan and Yang applied to the Conrad Challenge, the Paradigm Challenge, and the Blue Ocean Challenge, among others. 

“Competitions each have a niche focus on a specific aspect of entrepreneurship. All of them want to train specific aspects or qualities of high school entrepreneurs,” Pan said.

With their victory in the Diamond Challenge, the seniors are not planning to leave their progress behind. Both partners are interested in studying business in college, and plan to expand BACVision.

“We’re already a registered LLC in Virginia and we’re pursuing a software patent right now. We’re definitely interested in pursuing this idea further,” Yang said. “We’ll see where it goes.”