Stars find Nebraska graduate’s invention illuminating

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Raikes grad hit it big in hollywood with invention.

UNL’s Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management has much to celebrate a decade after its home, the Kauffman Center, opened its doors.

So does alum Alan Grow, who returned this fall to help the school celebrate with its biggest Alumni Bash yet.

He hitchhiked halfway across the country for it. Not because he’s poor. He just needed to decompress after hitting it big in Hollywood with the start-up company he co-founded, iLuminate, which is creating a buzz in the entertainment biz.

“The past two years,” he says, “have been a pretty wild ride.”

Grow, 30, co-founded iLuminate, billed as the first wearable, wireless lighting system. Stars like Christina Aguilera and the Black Eyed Peas have used iLuminate’s technology in their performances. At the 2010 BET Awards, Chris Brown blew people away dancing in the dark to Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” Death Cab for Cutie used iLuminate technology for a video.

A few months ago on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” a team of dancers called “Team iLuminate” wowed the audience. Said Piers Morgan, one of the judges: “In terms of creativity and originality, this is probably the single most exciting audition I have ever seen on the show.”

Grow lives in New York City, where iLuminate is based. It had been two years since he returned to Lincoln. He flew from Hollywood – straight off the set of “AGT” – to meet a friend in Portland, Ore., and together they hitchhiked to the reunion.

“It was kind of mind blowing how many people along the way knew about iLuminate,” he says. “People talk about the ‘reach’ of television, but that’s when it finally became real for me.”

Grow graduated in 2003. He was a member of the school’s first entering class, when the curriculum was still coming together and the Kauffman Center, he says, was “just a hole in the ground.”

“Everyone who goes through that program I think comes out the other end much better for it,” Grow says. “For the first few entering classes, I think blazing that trail really had an impact on who we are today. We all learned pretty quickly to take responsibility and just make stuff happen. Now that we’re all out there doing our things, we’ll have these great conversations about business and technology whenever we get back together – sharing insights, plugging people in to new opportunities, etc.

“It’s exactly what the program founders hoped and envisioned would happen, and it’s really starting to build up a technology scene in Lincoln.”

Among the school’s achievements this past decade:

The curriculum and educational experience have evolved. This year the Design Studio, which teams juniors and seniors with professionals to find solutions for real-world clients, surpassed 100 projects.

This fall’s freshman class of 30 includes eight National Merit scholars, 18 Regent’s scholars and six who are the first in their families to go to college. Seven of the 30 freshmen are women. The average ACT score was 33.2.

There’s a growing network of successful alumni – almost 300 now. Some work for major corporations like Microsoft and Google. Some have founded their own companies, including local ones like Hudl and Allied Strategies. More are staying in Lincoln because of employers like Nebraska Global.

“I really, really love that program,” Grow says. “I am so grateful for that full-ride, and for the opportunities that the program gave me coming out of college, and not having to worry about that student-loan debt hanging over me.”

Information Technology is a top priority of the Campaign for Nebraska, including the Raikes School in Lincoln and the Peter Kiewit Institute in Omaha. If you’d like to help, please give online or contact the foundation at 800-432-3216.

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