After Jonathan Hefter graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in 2009, his life could have gone a number of ways.Instead of taking one of the multiple job offers the engineering major received, or pursuing a Ph.D. like his mother wanted, Hefter decided to try something more ambitious.
He moved back home and turned his parent’s garage into a workshop.
There, he built a box.
The box, which Hefter calls the Juicebox, has the potential to save a lot of schools and other cash-strapped organisations money.
It makes old computers run like new. Hefter says schools that use his product, Neverware, will never have to buy new computers again.
Hefter’s Juicebox acts as a server that turns even 10-year-old computers into “thin clients,” to use a term from enterprise technology. That means the computers merely run basic input-output functions, taking input from keyboards and displaying data on a monitor while a nearby Juicebox actually runs software programs for them.
One Neverware Juicebox can run 100 old computers in this manner. Neverware covers the cost of implementing a Juicebox and maintaining it. organisations pay a subscription fee based on how many computers they’d like to connect to the box.
“From a user’s perspective, it’s like they unplugged an old computer and plugged in a brand-new one,” Hefter says. A computer using Neverware’s Juicebox experiences the updated operating system, speed, and reliability of newer models, despite the old hardware.
Neverware has been funded by a group of venture capitalists who pumped $1 million into Neverware late last year. They’ve kept quiet about their portfolio company while Neverware worked on bringing the product to market.
Now that Neverware has been tested, sold, and implemented in a number of high schools throughout the northeast, the investors are ready to publicly show their support. The funding round, which closed in early 2012, involved Khosla Ventures, GRP Partners, Thrive Capital, General Catalyst Partners, Raptor Ventures, and a few New York angel investors.
Neverware is an admirable idea. It aims to solve a big pain point for people who don’t have the resources to invest in the latest and greatest technology. But during the three years it took Hefter to come up with the idea and bring it to market, a lot has changed.
In 2009, iPads hadn’t yet launched and the mobile revolution was still getting underway. Now, cheaper, more portable classroom computer alternatives are here. And thin clients aren’t exactly new: Everyone from Citrix to Dell and Microsoft have similar offerings. So Neverware is entering a hotly competitive market, going up against companies with a far more established market presence.
Plus, it’s tough to scale a business that relies on schools for clients. Academic bureaucrats aren’t known for trying innovative new products.
But one school that recently started using Neverware in Brooklyn seems to really like the product, and the price point. It told The Verge that the going rate from the larger vendors was $25,000 to $60,000 per year. Hefter says his “sweet spot” is much lower, between $12,000 and $15,000.
“The reason schools can’t afford current solutions is not because they don’t have any money, but because the only solutions in the market were created for a Fortune 500 market that purchases solutions two orders of magnitude greater than what schools can afford,” Hefter explains.
“Trying to adapt those solutions for schools is like trying to adapt a corporate Gulfstream jet into a school bus. Schools don’t want to pay for the world’s most expensive systems, they want to pay for something that fulfils their need – a fast, reliable computer system that works on whatever technology they happen to have, from PCs to Macs to netbooks to tablets.”
Knowing Hefter, the young entrepreneur won’t give up on his product without a fight.
“I wanted him to go get his Ph.D.,” Hefter’s mother Eva told The Observer. “But he just kept telling me he wanted to change the world. He can be quite the mensch.”
Here’s a diagram of how Neverware works.