When I first landed on frontbrakelight.com to prepare for an interview with innovator Steven Wright, I recalled a car accident my friend Carla was in a few years back. Sitting high up in her Geo Tracker, she waited at a busy intersection for traffic to clear up before turning left. Just before letting off the brake and giving the Geo some juice, a van approached opposite her. With its left turn signal on, the van slowed and eased into the left turn lane across from Carla. She took this as the go-ahead and sped up to make her left turn, only to smash right into the van she thought had already slowed to a stop.
Her car was totaled. No major injuries occurred, luckily enough, but in the end the blame was on Carla for her inattention. She made an educated guess based on nearly a decade of driving safely through the congested, calamitous suburban infrastructure of northern Illinois along with plenty of experience navigating Chicago’s aggressive grid system. If only there had been some way to know at the last moment that the van driver decided to ease out from the turn lane when they released the brake and hit the gas.
Steven Wright of Wright Innovations says their front brake light will eliminate accidents like that Carla experienced by representing “driver intention.” Wright says that outside the numerous benefits of The Front Brake Light, those treacherous left turns are one of the biggest reasons he and his advisors (the likes of Sec. of State Jesse White and members of Oprah’s Harpo Studios, among others) push to get the funding for what they’re calling “the next revolution in automotive safety.”
Wright admits The Front Brake Light isn’t an especially new idea, but he’s okay with that. Early concepts of the device didn’t catch on, he says, because “they never really had the right components to be put on the market.”
As he breathes new life into an old idea, Wright gets to network with senior members of Illinois government, commerce and philanthropy. The last week of September, he spent time making rounds at midVentures Launch event.
“They’re a different breed,” he says of midVentures attendees, who he admits have a philosophy and vocabulary to which he’s still acclimating.
Wright is an excited, friendly entrepreneur and the voice of Wright Innovations. He is just 25 years old and recently graduated from The Art Institute of Chicago.
Watch the video below to see how impressive The Front Brake Light truly is but the real allure to Wright Innovations is Steven–a young, forward thinking recent grad who has taken on a professional demeanor without losing the raw excitement he has for getting The Front Brake Light on the market.
“I have to give my dad credit,” he says humbly. Wright’s father was rear-ended back when Steven was fifteen, and told his son that a front brake light could have prevented the accident, allowing him to see that the car behind him didn’t brake fast enough.
The idea stayed only an idea that Wright wasn’t especially excited about until he reached college.
“I went from a community college paying $70 a credit hour to a private school that cost around $1000 per credit hour.”
Suddenly Wright faced the common fear of going into debt to earn a degree. Majoring in graphic design, he knew he wouldn’t be paid enough once he entered the design world–not enough to pay down his loans and live the lifestyle he wants. The Front Brake Light concept began to sound like a solution.
As a print broker, Wright’s father had connected with many Chicago area aldermen and when his son was ready to push the concept and eventually build a prototype, he introduced Steven to Secretary of State Jesse White. White has long mentored Wright during his entrepreneurial journey and it shows in the way Wright presents the front brake light with an easy-going, yet confident tone.
The Front Brake Light has not yet found funding, though Wright is getting attention from Oprah’s Harpo Studios, as well as counseling from Mike Rhodes of the SYNC Technology Center. The focus for Wright Innovations now is to find a backer for turning The Front Brake Light Automotive Safety Initiative into a 501c3. The purpose of the non-profit side of his business is to educate the public about the front brake light, a proposal based on advice from Wright’s connections with Jesse White and IDOT officials.
When asked how he is received during networking events like midVentures and by Chicago bigwigs readily offering counseling on his journey, Wright responded sensibly, “I’m young. I think that helps… It inspires them.”
Wright represents a shift in the mindset of recent graduates around the country who, faced with paying back student loans and finding gainful employment, know the old route to success is nearly impassable and a new path must be forged. We should look to them, not government, for the next decade and take notes. Wright and his peers will lead the innovative startups that improve our lives and rebuild our economy.