Joshua Sobota (SHU ’06) Created a Business to Keep Buildings - and the People in Them - Safe

Joshua Sobota (SHU ’06) is a darn good building and facilities consultant. So good, in fact, that he has invented a brand new way of ensuring that the buildings we trust to keep us safe – like hospitals and schools – are up to the task. With the help of the Wukich Center for Entrepreneurial Opportunities, Joshua’s company, BlueOtter, may be coming soon to a building near you.

The Safety Challenge

All public buildings contain a vast network of items that building inspectors refer to as “life safety systems.” These systems include familiar items like fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, in addition to more subtle (but no less important) bits of safety infrastructure, like the devices that ensure that fire doors and HVAC systems react automatically when smoke or fire is detected.  Every part of each system has to be tested and maintained on a regular basis.  This can be difficult for building managers, especially when new construction or building renovations can make just keeping track of safety assets a challenge. 

“The Center helped me answer a lot of questions I had,” Joshua says.  “Starting with: does this make sense? Can I make money on this?”

After working in commercial, industrial and medical facilities across the country for the better part of 10 years, Joshua began to wonder if mobile mapping technology and Web-based asset tracking could replace the labor-intensive processes most facilities had in place for monitoring and maintaining life safety and other building assets. Joshua graduated from Seton Hill with a Bachelor of Science in business marketing and a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, so he felt confident about the business value of his idea, and his ability to bring it to market. That said, he also realized he could probably use some help – so he came back to Seton Hill, and worked with the Wukich Center for Entrepreneurial Opportunities to move his idea forward. 

Wukich CEO

Seton Hill’s Wukich Center for Entrepreneurial Opportunities (also called Wukich CEO, or just, “the Center”) coordinates and supports all entrepreneurial activities on campus. The Center can provide student and alumni entrepreneurs with business plan development, advisory and counseling services, opportunities to participate in business model and elevator pitch competitions, access to entrepreneurs-in-residence and initial business funding through the Wukich Venture Fund. 

"The Wukich Center is pleased to have been in on the ground floor of the development of Josh’s app,” says Wukich Center Director Debra Mason. “We helped him ask and answer the important questions that every start up should.” 

The Wukich Center helped Joshua lay the groundwork for his business, and provided resources to support him as he developed the technology.  The Center even coordinated some controlled tests of the fledgling system at Seton Hill.  

“The Center helped me answer a lot of questions I had,” Joshua says.  “Starting with: does this make sense? Can I make money on this?”

As it turns out, the answers to these initial questions have been “yes” and “yes.”  

BlueOtter to the Rescue

Once Joshua had a working prototype of his new life safety and facilities management software, the Wukich Center provided seed funding through a loan from the Wukich Venture Fund.  Then, after networking from Pittsburgh to San Francisco, Joshua secured a number of large investments (with most coming from his Westmoreland County backyard). With that, his business  – now officially named BlueOtter – was up and running.

In late 2016 Joshua opened his first office in downtown Greensburg, and is currently busy hiring staff and signing up clients. Like any successful entrepreneur, Joshua is also planning for the future.  BlueOtter is already evolving from a service confined to the management of life safety systems to a multipurpose tool that can enable a client to map, interact and analyze “stuff” of any kind.  

Over the past two months, BlueOtter has expanded operations, signed several new clients (both locally and nationally), and hired a number of employees – many of whom are Seton Hill alumni.  BlueOtter has also recently brought on two interns from Seton Hill.  Improving operational functionality at Seton Hill and focusing on local economic development are at the forefront of BlueOtter’s mission to give back to the community that has helped him succeed. 

“We were here to assist him through each phase of development,” say Wukich Center Director Debra Mason. “We provided Josh with funding and support that enabled him to secure thousands of dollars in investment and he is now well on his way to becoming a leader in the field of asset management. I love it when a plan comes together!"

Find out more about Seton Hill's Business Program here.