As an MBA student at the Tepper School of Business, Jeff Mullen set about reinventing the common credit card.
Mullen, MBA ‘07, created the interactive Card 2.0 that lets users access multiple accounts, reducing the dreaded wallet bulge made famous by “Seinfeld” character George Costanza. Card 2.0 can also be programmed to hide its account information in the event it ends up in the wrong hands. Users “unlock” the card’s hidden fields by entering a code at checkout.
In 2009, the “world’s first fully-programmable magnetic stripe”
so impressed judges at Carnegie Mellon University’s McGinnis Venture Competition, Mullen’s Pittsburgh-based start-up Dynamics Inc. nabbed the Technology Track prize.
Mullen’s success continued in October, when Citibank unveiled Citi2G, a “smart” card based on Dynamics’ proprietary technology. Citi2G lets users access their business, personal and reward-program from a single piece of plastic. Dynamics’ other banking partners are expected to roll out their own versions of Card 2.0 soon.
Dynamics’ story is sure to inspire the next crop of student entrepreneurs converging at Carnegie Mellon University March 10 through 12 for the 2011 McGinnis Venture Competition. Now in its eighth year, this international event hosted by the Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship allows competitors to showcase their innovations before venture capitalists, angel investors and judges.
Mullen also grabbed top honors at the DEMO Fall 2010 convention in Silicon Valley, winning first place out of 70 entrants. Even better, the 800 attendees honored him with the coveted $1 million People’s Choice Award.
“It’s been a busy few years,” said Mullen in a bit of understatement.
During his six-minute DEMO presentation, Mullen whipped out his cards and dunked them in a bowl of water.
“It can survive in your washing machine,” he said. The 70 electronic components squeezed into one tenth of a cubic inch are protected by a sheath of advanced plastic and polymers.
Card 2.0’s Hidden(TM) application, which requires the user to punch in a code, is designed to thwart credit card theft, which costs consumers and businesses billions of dollars each year.
“If the card is lost or stolen, it’s a dead piece of plastic,” Mullen said.
Mullen reinvented credit cards to overcome the restrictions imposed by the 1970s-era magnetic stripe readers used in about 90 percent of credit and debit transactions. “All that data on the magnetic strip is static. It blocks innovation,” he said. “The information stays the same.”
Mullen came to the task with impeccable credentials. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon in 2001. He later graduated from New York Law School and worked as a patent attorney at the Fish & Neave Intellectual Property Group of Ropes & Gray LLP in New York. As an inventor, he has more than 90 patents issued or pending.
In 2007, he returned to Carnegie Mellon to pursue his MBA while starting a company. He credits Tepper’s Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship with helping him balance the competing demands of coursework and building a business. At one point, while setting up Dynamics’ California office, he was flying off two to three times a week. The faculty worked around his hectic schedule.
“Tepper was really supportive,” Mullen said. “The curriculum was customized to me. They support what you want to do.”
He also received early encouragement from Philip Yen, executive vice president of emerging technology at Visa. Yen was so impressed by Mullen’s Card 2.0 design that he left Visa to join Dynamics.
“Every single milestone has been an event,” Mullen said. “Validation is when you bring in someone with that level of expertise from Visa and he joins a start-up.”
Dynamics has netted about $400,000 in business plan competition prizes at McGinnis, Rice and the University of San Francisco among others. It has also received $5.7 million in backing from Adams Capital Management in Pittsburgh.
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