Travis Kiefer likes to do things a little differently. Upon graduating from Groton High School in 2006, he enrolled at Stanford and became the first from his small-town South Dakota school to get into an Ivy League university. After his junior year, he took time off to fundraise for a nonprofit of his own creation and become the youngest American male to run a marathon on all seven continents (yes, including Antarctica).
Kiefer immersed himself in the Silicon Valley startup scene, creating a software platform and making low millions in revenue. But when that platform was aquired in 2014, Kiefer decided it was time to return to his roots.
“I missed waking up and there’s birds chirping, and going to bed and there’s birds chirping,” he said. “You hear car horns when you wake up and car horns when you go to bed in Silicon Valley.”
More than the birds, Kiefer missed the people and the Midwestern values– values, he said, that make for some of the best entrepreneurs.
“A lot of the most successful entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are not from California,” he said. “In the Midwest, what we learn is hard work, integrity, and just this desire to get things done and do things to the best of our ability. And really, we’re serving others. There’s a lot of hospitality. And when you have that attitude, when you have that values system, creating a company just becomes a matter of knowing the market and designing a really good solution.”
When Kiefer returned to Aberdeen, SD, he was greeted by temperatures colder than those he faced in Antarctica. But he stuck around despite the frigid air, became a consultant for startups, purchased Aberdeen’s iconic Citizens Building, and invested in a number of other properties. Now he’s changing things up again with Ease, a startup devoted to giving safety, independence, and peace of mind to the elderly population.
Living with Ease
Ease builds an intelligent passive sensor network that notifies the right person, at the right time, via smart phone when an elderly citizen is in a situation requiring attention.
“What we are doing is creating hardware and software products, integrated solutions, for senior living,” Kiefer said. “For those who have grandpa or grandma who forget they leave the stove on, who forget they leave the sink on, and you’re just worried about them falling or no longer being safe in their own home, Ease allows these individuals to have peace of mind while maintaining their independence living in the place they call home.”
Kiefer first saw the need for Ease at a young age; his mother worked in an assisted living facility when he was growing up, and he regularly went in to volunteer. He saw firsthand the challenges that come with aging, particularly aging a facility. So that’s where Ease is starting.
“You get a bunch of people all in one facility, they have a very, very strong need for the product now, and it allows us to build something that’s good enough for assisted living, which we can then bring in to the comfort of your own home,” he said.
On August 24th, Ease was installed in its first facility in Aberdeen; by the end of the year, Kiefer wants to see it in ten facilities. It’s a lofty goal, but for Kiefer, the importance of Ease is well worth the effort.
“In Silicon Valley, you have so many people solving, to me, not real problems,” he said. “I want to use technology to solve a meaningful problem that would significantly improve people’s lives. And to me, what’s more meaningful than allowing your grandma or grandpa to age with dignity and ease?”
A space for makers
On top of creating and installing Ease, Kiefer and his team have set up a space to share their expertise (and technology) with the people of Aberdeen. For a monthly fee of $45, members of Create With Ease will have access to 3D printers, soldering stations, and other items that Kiefer calls “makerspace stuff”– anything they need to explore their interest in microelectronics.
After its grand opening on September 1st, Create With Ease members will have 24/7 access to the makerspace. The office itself is a living example of all that can be created inside; members can open the door or turn the lights on and off all with their smartphone, thanks to technology built by Kiefer and his team.
“If they have an interest in making things, particularly microelectronics… we can share some of our experiences and help them get a little better, they can learn from us, and who knows? They could start another successful company and it’ll be because they had access to these tools and resources that weren’t previously available,” Kiefer said. “I believe very deeply that if you invest in the community, the community will invest in you and the return will be exponential.”
Learn more about Travis Kiefer and Ease at 1 Million Cups Fargo this Wednesday, August 31st, from 9:15 – 10:15 AM at the Stage at Island Park.
Images courtesy of Travis Kiefer.