B.A.Sc. '14 Inventor of LightMode Helmets
Spending his first two months after graduation “looking for engineering jobs 24-7,” Thomas Plywaczewski eventually cooled his career search jets and took a well-earned breather. “It was around this time I showed the motorcycle helmet I had made to my buddy.”
His unique, Tron-style helmet – a regular helmet adapted with glow-in-the-dark electroluminescent stripes powered by batteries – impressed his business-owner friend, who suggested he try launching a Kickstarter campaign to see if anyone would back it.
Plywaczewski dedicated the next few months to refining his idea, making it as user-friendly as possible and focusing his efforts on creating something that would be as close to a marketable product as possible. Slowly, his company – LightMode – began to take shape.
“I basically did everything myself, including creating the video on the website. As for the Kickstarter campaign, I nervously postponed launching it a couple of times because I didn’t feel ready. It was a really intense seven months of trying to make it work the way I wanted it to.”
But when the campaign finally launched in August 2014 – “a very nerve-wracking time,” he recalls – it took off faster than a dirt bike on a downhill. The result? His funding target was surpassed in less than eight hours.
“Suddenly, everything changed,” says Plywaczewski. “I put the job applications on the backburner and I went full-on. The Kickstarter campaign proved to me there was a market for this.”
Now working full-time on LightMode, it’s been an amazing ride. “Everything I’m doing is for the first time so I’m learning as I go. It’s scary at times but I’m trying to trust my instincts,” he says, adding that the company has shifted focus from creating custom-made helmets to supplying handy kits that users can buy to transform their own helmets.
Although he didn’t know it at the time, Plywaczewski looks back on his period at SFU – he specialized in Engineering Physics – as a practice run for the hard work he now puts into his company. “I took a really tough program in school and after that I realized I could do anything. Every problem has a solution you can work towards – and that’s an approach I use everyday.”
That level of commitment means working until 3 a.m. most days, typically dealing with contracts, distribution requests and social media obligations. “I’m doing it all myself, with some help from my dad and my girlfriend – who also has a full-time engineering job – but I really love it!”
And the next step? “I want to improve the product and build great customer service. And then I want to develop a new version of the helmet with built-in EL materials. I had no idea how much fun this could be, but it’s shown me you have to find something you’re passionate about and just go for it.”