Novato High School class helps students convert ideas into stuff — and maybe cash

Robert Eyler, chief economist for the Marin Economic Forum, said, “It’s good to see entrepreneurial activity coming from the high schools.”

By Janis Mara
Marin Independent Journal

Maxim Kalinkin, 17, opened the MarinSurveillance.com icon on his phone during product design class at Novato High School, and the screen displayed a view of his home in real time — a system he designed himself in the class.

The Novato 11th-grader created the home security business over a period of three months and already has landed two customers. MarinSurveillance.com installs security cameras connected to homeowners’ phones, tablets and computers. The system comes with a one-time fee in the $300 to $400 range.

“My house was egged and I was curious about who would want to damage our property this way,” Kalinkin said. “That sparked the idea that if I had something that looks at the house all the time, maybe I could have prevented this.”

The student discussed his idea with Glenn Corey, the Novato High teacher who designed the class five years ago. The product design class follows the principles of project-based learning, an approach in which students work individually or as a team on a real-world creation.

Students in the class master everything from product concepts to computer aided design and production. In the past, students have made such things as meat smokers, skateboarding ramps and prosthetics in the class — not as assignments, but as ideas they came up with on their own.

While all these products work in the real world, Kalinkin went a step further and started a business with his home security system.

“Mr. Corey and I developed a business plan,” Kalinkin said. “He advised me to start slow and use word of mouth for advertising.”

The student helps his uncle with his electrical business on the weekends.

“I would see properties with surveillance systems and talk with the homeowners about how the companies did the installations and how they worked,” Kalinkin said. It takes about two and a half hours to install the cameras, he said.

Kalinkin and his father tested about 15 cameras, he said.

“We would buy broken cameras, fix them and sell them. I was making money and learning about different kinds of systems,” Kalinkin said.

The function connecting the cameras with other devices is built into the camera, he said.

Unlike home security systems wired to detect a breach of a window or door, this system entails strictly observation, although “we can set up a sensor that sends an email notification if there is a lot of movement,” the student said.

The system works with Apple tablets, any type of smartphone and any Windows computer, but not Apple desktops or laptops.

Novato police Lt. Michael Howard said, “We recognize the importance of home surveillance as a preventative tool.”

Novato homeowners who have such devices can help the police track down criminals, Howard said, and can sign up to help police when crimes occur in their neighborhoods.

“We contact the homeowner. We never have direct access to the video,” Howard said. The homeowners’ cameras could make it easier for law enforcement to obtain video evidence, he said.

Robert Eyler, chief economist for the Marin Economic Forum, said, “It’s good to see entrepreneurial activity coming from the high schools.”

“We usually see it coming from colleges,” he said, invoking the name of Mark Zuckerberg, who with Harvard University classmates launched Facebook from his dorm room.

“Zuckerberg is an example of someone who found something in college that was a good idea and walked away a millionaire,” Eyler said. “It’s good that we’re seeing some of this in high school in Marin County. It might inspire other kids to seek out ideas and engage their entrepreneurial thinking.”