Over the past decade, Santa Barbara entrepreneur Jacques Habra has been involved with nearly 20 different companies spanning a variety of fields. However, the 36-year-old Michigan native says he has never been more excited and confident about the potential of any his past endeavors than he is about Phone Halo, the local technology startup of which he is the CEO.

“It is absolutely a game-changing kind of company,” Habra said of his latest project.

Phone Halo, the brainchild of recent UCSB graduates Chris Herbert and Christian Smith, is essentially a device that prevents the loss or misplacement of one’s phone or other valuables through the use of a unique software design. The device itself, which starts at $59.95, is about the size of an electronic car door opener, and can be conveniently attached to a keychain, and it performs three main functions.

First, the device alerts you if you are about to leave your smartphone behind by emitting a series high-pitched beeps; the phone rings a special alert as well, making it bi-directional. This function can be switched on and off at any time, and can be customized by specifying a user-defined distance of separation.

Second, you can always locate your misplaced phone by simply pressing a button on the device, which causes the phone to ring. This function also works bi-directionally, as you can press a button on your phone to cause the device to beep, making it easy to find missing keys and other valuables.

The third, and most innovative, aspect of the Phone Halo software is its automatic GPS tracking of lost or misplaced items. Two minutes after the device is separated from the phone, Phone Halo sends a text and an e-mail with the GPS coordinates of the last known location of the lost item, along with a Google Map of the location. It also automatically updates the owner’s Facebook and Twitter status with GPS coordinates, so that any family or friends in the area of the lost item can help to recover it as quickly as possible.

Phone Halo is a $59.95 device that can attach to a keychain and remain in constant contact with a smartphone.

Phone Halo is a $59.95 device that can attach to a keychain and remain in constant contact with a smartphone. (Phone Halo photo)

The idea for Phone Halo was spawned by a chance encounter that co-founder Herbert had a couple of years back, when he was still a student at UCSB.

“A friend of Chris’ approached him at the UCSB commons over dinner, and said, ‘Dude, I just lost my phone.’ That was the light bulb moment!” Habra explained. “Chris basically said, ‘Why don’t we create a way that you could have a device that talks to the phone and is electronically tethered?’”

From there, Herbert, an electrical engineering major, joined forces with his friend, Smith, a mechanical engineering major, and the duo began working on prototypes for their senior project. In 2009, they ended up winning the Most Investable Concept Award at the UCSB Technologies Management Program Competition — which carried with it a $7,500 prize to go toward making their idea a reality.

Habra, who was a mentor for the program, where he helped young entrepreneurs cultivate and develop their business plans, says he saw something special in the Phone Halo concept.

“When Chris and Christian presented the idea, I immediately liked it — I loved it in fact,” said Habra. “I also really liked the two of them as people, and so I joined them shortly after the conclusion of the competition.”

Herbert serves as chief technology officer and Smith as chief operating officer, and Habra came on board as chief executive officer of the fledgling company.

In the company’s first manufacturing run last year, it produced 400 units, which sold out through online ordering in a matter of months. So far, the operation has been completely self-funded, but Habra says the team is currently talking with accredited private investors, like angel groups, and is looking for $1.5 million in Series A funding.

In the meantime, Phone Halo has another manufacturing run set for next month, much to the delight of many people who have already pre-ordered a device.

“The next manufacturing run is 1,000 units, which are going to go pretty fast, if they’re not already gone by the time we get them!” Herbert said.

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The Phone Halo software is currently compatible with smartphones like the Android OS 2.0 and higher and BlackBerry OS 4.5 and higher, and iPhone support will be available this summer. There is also a money-clip version of Phone Halo available, as well as a bracelet version for children to protect them from getting separated from their parents.

Habra graduated from the University of Michigan with an English and philosophy degree in 1996, and had hopes of continuing on to law school. He changed his career direction after graduating, however, and started his own Web development agency called WebElite, which sold in 2001. Today, he is the mnaging partner of Noospheric, which specializes in consulting and investing in startup companies such as Phone Halo.

As for Herbert and Smith, Habra says their engineering acumen gives Phone Halo some distinct advantages over other consumer electronics companies.

“We have a company that can engineer new concepts and new ideas in a few days rather than a few months,” Habra said. “When you compare Phone Halo with other similar products in the marketplace right now the idea is out there, but nobody is doing it with our vision for real convergence and real recovery of an item. They just don’t have the kind of unique software that we are developing.”

In May, Phone Halo was featured in The Wall Street Journal as a hot new company to keep an eye on, and the three founding members are thrilled to have so much positive momentum right now. In the long term, however, Habra says they have a much grander vision for the company than simply the prevention of loss and misplacement of everyday items.

“This company is building and engineering infrastructure right now to connect mobile devices to the physical world to do much more than prevent loss, but to also automate much of our day-to-day life,” Habra said. “What I love about Phone Halo is that it represents a total shift in the role of the smartphone in our lives.

“Right now it’s prevention of misplacement, but in the future it could be automation of updating your grocery list, it could be letting you know when your wife got home, so that you can be on time,” he said. “It could completely change the way we live — the sky is truly the limit.”

— Kevin McFadden is a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at kmcfadden@noozhawk.com.