Fashion Focused Entrepreneur Says Her Shopping Tool Is More Than An App

By Katie Byard The Akron Beacon Journal.

Who are you wearing?

Where can I buy it?

Fashion-conscious consumers could answer such questions quickly with a smartphone app -- called Tag N' Snag -- that a Kent State University graduate is developing.

"We're on the cusp of the technology, working it out basically," Erika Mayiras, 24, said in an interview this week.

She excitedly explains that the app would allow the user to gather product information -- in a discreet way -- about a dress, shoe or other piece of apparel someone else is wearing.

On Thursday, Mayiras and five other Northeast Ohio innovators will vie for cash prizes as they present their business ideas at the second annual "Pitch Night."

The business competition is an open-to-the-public event at the Hudson Library & Historical Society akin to ABC's hit television series Shark Tank.

A Pitch Night review panel sifted through 37 contest submissions, and about a week ago chose the six finalists who each will make 20-minute presentations.

Judges will award a first-place prize of $3,000. Second place will be worth $1,500 and third place will receive $500.

Mayiras, who majored in technical fashion design at Kent, has a prototype of the app loaded on her smartphone to show the judges.

She's not just fiddling around with an idea: She is getting help in developing the app from the Youngstown Business Incubator, a nonprofit entity.

She can show how a Tag N' Snag search function could be used to look for nearby stores that carry the item and even what sizes are available at a given store.

Mayiras joins two other contestants who are from the Akron area: Patrick Jordan, 47,who wants to commercialize his idea for a "multi-station" smoke detector that is designed to work during a power outage; and Stephanie Sutton, 40, an online educator.

She offers instruction in computer animation and other tech subjects to students in pre-K through high school, and wants to expand her business.

Pitch Night is an offshoot of the library's Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship Research, named for the late Hudson entrepreneur.

Morgan founded MACtac, initially called Morgan Adhesives. The center has received funding from the Burton D. Morgan Foundation. Here's a quick look at their ideas:

Tag N' Snag app/technology, Erika Mayiras

Mayiras stresses that her shopping tool is more than an app.

"It's also a technology," she says, that joins the "physical world around you and the digital retailing world."

Let's say you see a woman wearing a shirt you really like, Mayiras explains. You want to know where you could find one for yourself. You use the Tag N' Snag app to non-obtrusively find out the information.

The app does not involve using the smartphone to take a picture of the product -- unlike other available technology. Instead, the smartphone gathers information with the help of "wearable technology" in the shirt.

For Mayiras' senior thesis, she created motorcycle apparel that included "super fabric" -- with ceramic beads to reduce abrasion -- and other innovative features.

Mayiras, who came up with the idea for the Tag N' Snag app last spring, shortly before graduating from KSU, acknowledges that the app is a ways from commercialization.

Her presentation Thursday will mirror various pitches she plans to make to nonprofit groups in hopes of landing cash to continue work on her app's development. She pays the bills by waitressing at an area restaurant.

She says she's a long way from giving up.

"I'm one of those go-to, see-what-happens people," she said.

Multi-station smoke detector, Patrick Jordan

Jordan is not a new inventor. He came up with the idea for the "multi-station" smoke detector, designed to work during a power outage or if the battery fails, several years ago.

"I'd read a lot about people dying in a fire because the battery [in the smoke detector] wasn't working," said Jordan, who calls himself a tinkerer.

Jordan says the smoke detector has multiple power sources -- current coming from an electrical outlet, battery power and a solar cell that recharges.

"People say, 'Just get a lithium [long-life] battery,'?" Jordan said. "They're not very affordable. I want this to be affordable."

He made a push to commercialize the detector several years ago, working with other entrepreneurs.

Now, Jordan, an Akron resident, is at it again, following his retirement from his job as an assistant at Oriana House, the area organization that offers a variety of alternatives to jail time.

Jordan estimates he has spent tens of thousands of dollars developing the smoke detector and trying to find a company to commercialize it.

He's eager to participate in Pitch Night, hopeful of landing some funds that don't come out of his own pocket.

Digital Animation for Kids, Stephanie Sutton

Sutton is teaching grade-schoolers how to write computer code.

In fact, her Digital Animation for Kids company offers 250 copyrighted online lessons -- they involve teaching various computer skills, as well as other subject matter -- to pre-K through high school students as part of after-school enrichment programs.

A Hudson resident, Sutton, works with a handful of other instructors, teaching virtually. The instructors use a computer learning platform called Edmodo -- sometimes called the Facebook for schools -- to answer students' questions and give feedback.

Sutton's company has for several years focused on teaching digital animation, 3-D modeling and how to create audio for software programs, in addition to computer coding. Her lessons involve free software, such as Microsoft Paint.

"Students don't feel like they have to purchase anything," she said.

The former IT professional sees a day -- not too far off -- when computer coding classes are part of the regular curriculum for grade-schoolers.

"It's coming down the pike," Sutton said. "Coding classes have already been mandated in the [United Kingdom]."

She wants to expand her business, with enough online instructors to meet increased demand from U.S. school districts for such instruction.

"Right now, we're teaching in an after-school environment," she said. "I am really excited to start jumping into regular computer labs."

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