Students Win Big at Invent Oregon


During 2020, one of the most unpredictable years in recent history, students Matthew Brown BA ’21 and Ramez Attia BA ’21 found one silver lining after another. After over 10 months of work, the pair watched from their residence hall as they were announced the winners of the People’s Choice award at the Invent Oregon competition for college entrepreneurs, earning $2,000 for the popularity of their invention. Then, out of 18 statewide teams, Brown and Attia were announced the winners of the entire competition, earning a $10,000 prize.

“The feeling was unbelievable,” says Brown. “This was a huge milestone for us.” Brown and Attia pitched an idea called SafeStart, a device that communicates directly with a car’s ignition. If a driver fails SafeStart’s handheld breathalyzer test, the ignition is disabled. Attia presented their idea at last January’s Winterim, and the pair qualified for the Invent Oregon competition.

They describe their meeting as something of a cosmic accident. Brown transferred to Lewis & Clark as a sophomore, seeking out a balance between a competitive men’s basketball team and an academically rigorous environment. Attia, a member of the men’s tennis team, was considering transferring out of Lewis & Clark his first year before he discovered the Bates Center for Entrepreneurship and participated in his first Winterim. The two happened to be assigned to the same living suite and quickly bonded over a passion for business and entrepreneurship.

“Being at a small school plays in our favor,” says Brown. “You’re able to build closer relationships than you would if you were in a bigger school with thousands of kids.”

Brown and Attia emphasize that they see SafeStart as a true start-up. They are now at work on their second prototype, which will include an app that can be controlled by parents, a “best friends list” to be called if the driver fails the breathalyzer test, and facial recognition software to ensure that the driver is taking the test without a false positive.

“We made a pact that even if we didn’t win anything at Invent Oregon, we would see this through,” says Attia. Both Brown, an international affairs major from Rancho Cucamonga, California, and Attia, an economics and psychology double major from Cairo, Egypt, will graduate in May with the college’s new entrepreneurial leadership and innovation minor.