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Tuck US Marine Creates Startup That Combats College Kids Smoking Cannabis

Thanks to Dartmouth Tuck, MBA entrepreneurship winner creates startup that will catch out cannabis and nicotine smokers. Without Tuck's alumni network, his mission would be abandoned.

For one former US Marine Commanding Officer, an MBA from Dartmouth Tuck was a pathway to realising his entrepreneurial dream. John ‘Jack’ O’Toole has an immensely distinguished military career with the United States Marine Corps that spans almost a decade. The smaller-class sizes at the Tuck School of Business and a strong network of fiercely loyal alumni has made the New Hampshire based b-school a key provider of entrepreneurial success in the MBA world.

While other business schools often see MBAs embedded in consulting and finance roles, Tuck strives to be a leader of educating the entrepreneur. Almost 50 per cent of Tuck students chose entrepreneurship as a top interest at enrolment, and MBAs have a wide range of study and development programs to help hone their entrepreneurial skills and craft business plans for startups.

Jack used these methods to create his own venture, FreshAir Sensor Corporation, which uses novel sensor technology to detect nicotine and marijuana. The businesses' technology will allow college dorms, hotels, offices and schools to prevent or deter smoking in prohibited areas.

While Jack now heads his start-up of eight-months from Hanover, Tuck’s base of operations, just 14 months ago he was heading the planning and employment of assets for a 60,000 person military organization at Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Jack was an Officer in the ll Marine Expeditionary Force.

Before that he was a core team member of the development of a component of U.S. Special Operations Command. His nine-year military career as an Officer saw him reach the rank of Commanding Officer for the 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company, where he was deployed for a year in a specialized task force focused on high value targets.

Jack served as the initial force entering Fallujah during the assault on the city in the midst of the Iraq war. But Jack has swapped the warzone of Iraq for the warzone of the boardroom. His mission now is to use his MBA to drive his business into combat in the US economy.

While the US failed to agree on a new federal budget for the first time in 17 years this week, leaving over 800,000 employees temporarily out of work, Jack pushes on and was inspired to create the company after meeting an undergraduate chemical whizz who developed the initial technology to detect nicotine with a sensor.

“There’s a lot of people who actively dislike smoking and a not insignificant number of people who smoke in inappropriate places and cause an irritation to those around them,” he said. “It seemed a good problem to address.”

FreshAir Sensor Corporation's technology detects nicotine and marijuana, and uses a sensor that communicates over Wi-Fi. Customers will receive real-time email alerts when smoking is taking place in a prohibited area and the alerts are followed by a graph of the detected compound. “We're still in product development, but looking at two markets to pursue at the moment: hotels and college dorms,” he said.

The former US Marine left his military career behind because he wanted to pursue business. He was involved with a start-up in the military that now involves 3,500 people, a business experience Jack describes with horror. “That experience was like being bludgeoned every day,” he said. “Like stumbling forward under a rain of blows; but when you move forward it was pretty great, and its hard to do that.”

Jack originally joined the military for a sense of adventure and a desire to serve, among other reasons. But there are many more motivations behind his time in the US Marines. “I think that fortunately in the military, you get opportunities to lead people and you see different types of leaders,” he said.

“That was tremendously helpful for me and developing that skillset is important. This seems strange, but there are lots of opportunities to solve complex problems and use initiative, and that’s applicable anywhere.”

The Dartmouth MBA won the Tuck Summer Venture Award for the company’s business plan with fellow business partners Joe BelBruno and Kwame Ohene-Adu. The competition saw the team win $10,000 to help establish the start-up, designed to minimize the hurdle for a Tuck team interested in seriously pursuing an entrepreneurial venture during the summer of their first year at the school.  

Jack chose Tuck specifically for its entrepreneurship initiatives. After the military, he worked as a Director of Sales and Marketing for Exsurgo, a startup charity fundraising company. The company sells wine and 100 per cent of the proceeds from the sale of Exsurgo go to Hope For The Warriors - a national, non-profit organization that gives support to wounded U.S. Service members, their families, and the families of the fallen.

“I was doing a career transition,” he said. “I came to visit Tuck and I just really liked it, and after that Tuck was really my only choice. For me, an MBA was useful to help me understand what I didn’t know and fill in those gaps. My thought to start with was to be involved in entrepreneurship, going into a startup or doing my own.”

Instead of pursuing a traditional MBA summer internship at a company, Jack took advantage of Tuck’s summer entrepreneurial venture. “I thought the business idea had a lot of value, and I wanted to work on developing it and taking it on,” he said. “It’s a very intense learning environment. I got exposed to more things, got exposed to a range of different problems and it was a broader learning experience for me.”

Tuck is no stranger to helping students switch career paths and get or create MBA Jobs. Their support network and alumni connections streamlined Jack's business establishment after graduation. "Dozens of alumni have helped me, it's a tremendous network and if you reach out asking for something you invariably get a response very quickly," he said.

"Every problem I've had to deal with, I've been able to find someone at Tuck that's been able to help me. The broader Tuck network has been exceptionally helpful." 

If you have ever considered Why MBA to become an entrepreneur, then you will surely have to look no further than b-schools like Tuck that offer specialised  programs for those with a passion for startups.

Jack may have left a long career in the US Marines behind him, but his nicotine  and marijuana detection system has been given the best launch an MBA program can buy. As Jack says: "I have no idea how I would have done that without tuck."