Trio with UC Merced ties find support for startup in China

July 30, 2013 

Three entrepreneurs with UC Merced roots are trying to revolutionize the biking experience.

Alumnus Seena Zandipour, and former students Tony Belmontes and Kenneth Gibbs, are developing Helios Bars — handlebars that transform any bicycle into a "smart bike" through features such as smart phone connectivity; GPS tracking; and lights that flash red, yellow and green based on speed.

"We started with a simple idea and realized we had the technology to add more," said Zandipour, who graduated with a bachelor's in management. "We want to revolutionize the biking experience."

The group took its quest to Kickstarter, a crowdfunding site, where it raised $120,000 — far more than the $70,000 goal. Group members plan to begin shipping the smart handlebars in December.

The three are home after spending four months in an accelerated program in China that helps launch hardware startups. They won spots in the cutting-edge HAXLR8R program. The venture fund provides $25,000 seed money, office space and mentorship to entrepreneurs who travel to San Francisco or Shenzhen, China.

At UC Merced, Zandipour and Belmontes left their mark when they were part of the team that won the top prize in the inaugural Mobile App Challenge in 2012. Their "Classlerts" app — still in use today — allows students to receive text-message alerts when a slot opens up in a desired class.

Brian O'Bruba, director of the Career Services Center, helped develop the Mobile App Challenge. He's not surprised Zandipour and Belmontes were selected for the HAXLR8R program based on their performance in the competition.

"They are hard workers and have innovative ideas," he said. "Participating in the App Challenge helped them further develop their ideas and hone their skills."

The three co-founders of Helios came together at UC Merced as freshman roommates. Belmontes and Gibbs, both from Yuba City, have been friends since the sixth grade. In Zandipour, of Walnut Creek, they found a software, marketing and business mind that complemented their hands-on expertise.

"We benefit so much from collaborating together," Gibbs said.

Aspiring architect earns PG&E internship

At a conference of the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers, Jessyca Kamel, a junior from Los Angeles, wore her UC Merced shirt on her morning coffee run.

"I bumped into one of the PG&E recruiters," said Kamel, a mechanical engineering major. "She saw my sweat shirt, and instantly we were talking about PG&E and how they are one of the School of Engineering's biggest sponsors. She invited me to her workshop later that day. I went to the workshop, participated and made my presence known. Later that night, I got called for an interview, and three days later I was offered the position."

Kamel's work in Pacific Gas & Electric Co.'s gas operations department will be one building block in her plan for success, stacked between previous internships (at Cyth Systems and General Electric) and her plans to study abroad in Brazil, where she was born.

After she receives her bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering next year, Kamel plans to work in industry for a few years, and then pursue a graduate degree.

"With my technical background in engineering, my goal is to become an architectural engineer who designs, builds and creates the aesthetics of the whole building," Kamel said.

But that career trajectory represents only one aspect of Kamel's multifaceted, deeply involved life at UC Merced. She spent two years on the campus's club basketball team. She's also been a member of the Society for Women Engineers, an important support mechanism in a field that's mostly populated by men.

UC Merced Connect is a collection of news items written by the University Communications staff. To contact them, email communications@ucmerced.edu.

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