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North Hills Monthly

Hampton Freshmen Launch Technology and Design Company

Dec 30, 2015 11:07AM ● By Erica Cebzanov

Chris Ference and Joey Cafaro, who founded Omnicode.

A new company named Omnicode stands apart in Pittsburgh’s burgeoning technology market in part due to its owners—14-year-olds Chris Ference and Joey Cafaro. The Hampton High School freshmen have launched their first product, the Smile Stand, a combination phone or tablet stand and earbud holder.

The portable stand costs $13, comes in three sizes and features an acrylic rectangular body with an extendable arm to hold electronic devices in place. Users wrap their earbuds through two small holes to prevent the cords from tangling. “We originally just had a hole in the middle for you to put your cable through. However, we added the curved smile, which gave the design a unique aesthetic,” said Chris, who recruited Joey to form Omnicode after partnering with him on a Pennsylvania Computer Fair project.

Chris started to develop the Smile Stand idea in Glenn Geary’s eighth-grade automation and design engineering class. “The students could either design a phone stand or an earbud holder – It was actually two separate assignments. Chris took two problems and created one solution. He actually went above and beyond what was asked of the activity,” said Geary, Hampton Middle School science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teacher.

Earlier that year, the nonprofit Hampton Alliance for Educational Excellence (HAEE) had provided Geary a $20,000 grant for classroom equipment as a means of fulfilling its mission of promoting educational enrichment by supplementing the school district’s funding gaps. “If it hadn’t been for the equipment that HAEE funded, Chris and Joey wouldn’t have produced an actual prototype phone stand and earbud holder,” Geary said.

Over the summer, Chris and Joey furthered their idea at TechShop, a Bakery Square community-based workshop featuring industrial machines and design software. Working alongside other entrepreneurs gave them the confidence to launch a Kickstarter campaign to fundraise $5,000 to found Omnicode. The students spent two months fulfilling the website’s requirements, which included shooting a video explaining their product. “We had a lot of software issues. The whole task of creating a Kickstarter was a bit stressful. It was really exciting when we found out Kickstarter had accepted our campaign,” said Joey.

The students had reached half of their Kickstarter goal when they presented their idea to HAEE in an effort to secure additional funding. “We were impressed by the fact that they had been so proactive in taking what started as a simple classroom project and making it so much more,” said Jodi Andrews, HAEE vice president. “Omnicode affirmed what we did. We thought, ‘this is exactly why we do what we do. We’re constantly raising funds to provide new ways to supply technology. This is really an exciting way to do that work.’”

Joey compared the HAEE experience to appearing on ABC’s Shark Tank. After their pitch, he and Chris waited outside while the board deliberated and unanimously voted to donate the remaining $2,500 the students needed to reach their goal. “That was pretty great; we weren’t expecting anything that large,” he said.

In the future, Omnicode plans to offer customized Smile Stands and to also break into app development. On a personal level, Chris hopes to attend Carnegie Mellon University to study robotics, electrical engineering or business. Meanwhile, Joey dreams of majoring in business at CMU, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or the University of Pennsylvania.

“As a teacher, you want to see your students acquire the knowledge you are providing, give that knowledge meaning and then transfer that knowledge to real-life problem solving. Chris and Joey are doing those things,” said Geary. “It’s like being a proud father, watching them take their idea, nurture it and turn it into this company known as Omnicode.”

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