Last year's Social Impact Award finalists—Michael Pusik, Danielle Jeffers, and Connor McLeod.
In July 2017, Piero—now rebranded as Portal Entryways—won the CommonBond Social Impact Award. The award granted the company $10,000 to establish their brand and improve their invention, a smartphone app and device that helps people with mobility-related disabilities.
Today, Portal Entryways’ product is installed in 11 universities and shopping centers, and they have bold goals for the future.
We spoke to CEO Sam Lew about what has changed for Portal Entryways since winning the competition and what his plans are going forward.
Social Impact from the Start
Lew and company co-founder Connor McLeod dreamed of starting a business while still in college at Brigham Young University.
“We were part of a university incubator program,” Lew said. “We looked for different issues we could tackle. We were really interested in doing something that would have a social impact.”
Lew spent a lot of time talking to people on campus about what issues affected them.
“A girl on campus who had a wheelchair shared what she goes through every day,” Lew said. “We saw how hard it was for someone with mobility-related disabilities.”
One of the common complaints they heard from wheelchair users is that traditional automatic doors often close too quickly. Other people reported having trouble pressing the button to activate the door at all.
Inspired, Lew and his co-founder came up with an idea that would help people with disabilities enter and exit buildings.
They created a bluetooth-activated device that can be installed on any motorized door. Users download an app, which the device recognizes automatically. The door instantly opens when a user approaches the building, and stays open until they are safely through. There’s no buttons to push, so it’s a useful option for those with limited mobility.
Winning the CommonBond Social Impact Award
Social entrepreneurs are people who have ideas for products or companies that assist with social issues. The CommonBond Social Impact Award recognizes student social entrepreneurs who are working to help the common good.
As the winner in 2017, Portal Entryways received a $10,000 grant and a year’s worth of advisory services.
“CommonBond was a real blessing for us,” Lew said. “It was one of the first grants we’ve ever gotten.”
They used the $10,000 grant to buy materials to create a polished prototype. Now, their product is available for customers, helping people across the country.
Scaling to Create More Impact
With some satisfied customers already established, Portal Entryways has bold goals for the future.
“Our goal is to have 500 devices installed by the end of this year,” Lew said.
They’re also working on refining the device so that it’s more scalable. That way, they can do larger manufacturing runs and get more devices out to customers.
Many people with mobility-related disabilities have asked how to get Portal Entryways installed at their university or workplace. Lew encourages those people to contact the company directly; having people speak up and ask for the device is what motivated many schools and companies to install the Portal Entryways product.
Advice for Fellow Entrepreneurs
For other would-be entrepreneurs, Lew encourages people to take a step back.
“I think what was key for us is that we didn’t have a product or business in mind when we got started,” Lew said. “We started off just talking to people. By asking questions and really listening, we got to hear what the real issues were that affected their daily lives.”
Once you understand the issues and can empathize with the people affected, then you can start designing an idea that addresses that problem.
“I would suggest having deep, thoughtful conversations if you plan on becoming a social entrepreneur,” said Lew.
The 2018 CommonBond Social Impact Award contest is in progress right now. Check out the semifinalists here, and vote for the one you think is best. Three finalists will be flown to NYC on 11/13 to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges, and one will win $10,000. If you’ll be in the area, join us for the event!