PROVO — The story, and the terror, will be familiar to most parents, grandparents and baby-sitters, but this tale ends differently than most. One minute, 2-year-old Kimball Behrend was among 300,000 people enjoying a parade.
Then he disappeared.
"It's terrifying," said his father, Spencer Behrend. "The worst-case scenario goes through your head in the first few seconds."
Behrend found the energetic boy on a swing in a nearby yard, but the relief proved temporary. His wife, Kelsey, got after him to find a way to help her keep track of Kimball when it became clear the third of their five children was a wanderer.
So when Behrend returned to BYU to pursue an MBA last year, he and fellow students created a new child wristband that so far has won $30,000 in three student business competitions and is preparing a Kickstarter campaign for more funds to aid in manufacturing.
The Kiband — named for Kimball but pronounced with a long i — allows parents to set alarms on the "smartband" with their smartphone, giving them control of an area up to 400 feet in diameter.
"The goal of the Kiband is to break the wandering cycle," Behrend said, "first with a vibrating alarm that is a soft reminder to the child that mom said to stay close to her, then with the audible, escalating alarm to alert the parent."
Behrend, 34, initially tried to buy something to keep track of Kimball, but everything he found was too expensive or too bulky or only provided information to parents when he felt it was too late, after the child was out of sight or lost.
"Those failed the 'peace-of-mind' test," he said.
So he started to explore bluetooth technology. His team went through several rounds of testing with parents and children around BYU, including many at the Marriott School of Management, known for its families and family friendliness.
"Parents told us that in a park, they felt like it was OK for a child to wander to the other side of the playground, 100 feet away, but in a store, they weren't OK with 100 feet."
The alarm is adjustable, too. On a busy, noisy day at Disneyland, it could be set at 85 decibels, about the level of truck traffic — parents want it to go off like a car alarm in those conditions, he said — but can be adjusted lower for other scenarios.
In April, the Kiband earned $15,000 as one of 10 winners at the BYU Miller New Venture Challenge.
In May, it finished second in the campus Student Innovator of the Year competition, picking up another $3,000. A top 10 finish in a business model competition jointly hosted by BYU, Harvard and Stanford brought another $7,000.
Building hardware techology is different from, and more expensive than, creating a software product, and Behrend, who has a BYU bachelor's degree in accounting, and the rest of the Kiband team have undergone a steep learning curve in manufacturing, electrical engineering, computer science and more.
"It's great to have mentors who have been through the gauntlet so recently," Behrend said.
Behrend's entrepreneurship began at 14, when his dad bought a garden tiller. When people started to ask if they could borrow it, his dad said he could do the job. He rented the tiller from his father, paid maintenance fees and caught "this bug."
When he returned to BYU for his MBA and met fellow student Zack Oates, they decided it was time to solve the wandering child problem. The two are polar opposites. Behrend described himself as a stereotypical reserved accountant and Oates as an advertising, marketing and strategy whiz with high-flying energy and optimism.
Behrend, Oates and Heather Palmer, a mother of three the group calls its Chief Mommy Officer, are close to seeing their dream hit the market. They hope the Kickstarter campaign will raise the remaining funds for tooling the machines needed as they scale up for their first production run.16 comments on this story
The Kiband will retail for $120.
They took their product to the ABC Kids Expo in September, where buyers for retail outlets and mommy bloggers reacted positively.
Behrend said that after losing Kimball at the 2012 Freedom Festival parade in Provo, he and Kelsey found themselves turning their heads more often to keep track of Kimball. They also experienced increased stress, which depleted their energy.
"Our goal is to reduce the head-turn count, reduce the stress and let parents maintain the energy they need."