Israeli army veteran Ben Biron’s new invention could save more lives per year than racks of Kevlar vests and warehouses full of armor plating. Also, it tells you where to get cheese fries late-night.
At 24, he’s created Alcohoot, the world’s first smartphone breathalyzer. Biron hopes the product’s sleek design — along with an app that charts blood-alcohol levels over the course of a night and connects users with nearby taxis and post-bar eateries — will increase its appeal and decrease drunk driving.
Biron and his co-founder, Jonathan Ofir, first witnessed the problem in 2010 during their time in the Israel Defense Force. A sign posted at the army base’s entrance listed drunk driving as a leading cause of death among soldiers — a tall order in a place where ducking rockets is just another day at the office.
When Biron saw similar behavior after enrolling in Wingate University, 30 miles outside Charlotte, he began formulating the idea for Alcohoot. It was time to make breathalzyers cool.
“Moderate drinkers have more fun,” Biron said. “You stay out later, you get the girl and that’s the whole idea,” he added. “Alcohoot lets people use data to drive their drinking decisions rather than just relying on their instincts.”
At Packard Place, a startup incubator in downtown Charlotte where Alcohoot rents a desk for $200 a month, we became the first journalists ever to demo the breathalyzer — after a couple cold ones, that is. And it works.
The device, roughly a quarter the size of an iPhone, plugs into the phone’s audio port and takes about 10 seconds to calculate blood alcohol levels. Alcohoot’s breathalyzer,
according to the company, uses the same fuel sensors found in police-grade breathalyzers. And the $75 device costs significantly less than models used by law enforcement, which retail for around $800, Biron said.
So how did a college kid with no money find the engineering talent to undercut the market? He created a cartoon.
Biron used Odesk, an online marketplace for freelancers, to find a digital cartoonist whocreated an animated explanation of Alcohoot for $600. He then sent the animation to top universities in the U.S. and Israel, requesting that faculty connect him with engineering students who might want to develop the product.
“A smartphone breathalyzer is an easy concept to grasp, so all I needed was a visualization to get people on board,” recalled Biron, who paid his earliest engineers with equity in the company.
Investors, however, were not as easily sold. Alcohoot struggled to land investments until its latest prototype recently became available and prospective backers had something to play around with. Now venture capitalists are more responsive, said Biron, who raised $650,000 from angel investors this week. Maybe they enjoy product meetings over beers as much as a couple of traveling bloggers…
Alcohoot’s breathalyzers officially hit the market in October and can be reserved on the company’s site, where more than 500 buyers have purchased the device since the startup started pre-selling them in late-April.
The co-founders are pursuing other revenue streams as well, talking with big-name liquor companies eager to attach their brand to a product that encourages responsible drinking without sacrificing the cool factor.