Josh Swank is presently the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Philippi-Hagenbuch, Inc. located in Peoria, IL. In addition, he is also the Founder and CEO of Virtual Halo, a personal protection app designed for the Apple Watch and iPhone. After patenting Virtual Halo in 2015, Josh has continued to develop his technology to assist people all over the world. Using lessons and ideas that were impressed on him during his time at Ball State University, Josh has become a successful businessman, leader, mentor, and innovator that is changing the way technology can help us.

BSU Beginnings 

Josh came to Ball State from Rhode Island to pursue a master’s degree in Business Administration, with a focus on entrepreneurship. Despite loving the program, he wasn’t in love with the focus on the curriculum and decided to switch to the Center for Information and Computer Science (CICS) to pursue a degree more focused on technology. He spent some time meeting with the different professors of this program before officially making the switch. Josh started in August of 1999 and quickly found his home in this program. He realized from this program that technology and its development will never slow down. Josh believed that if he was more prepared in the tech field that he would be more marketable for his future career and have a better understanding of how the world worked. His coursework taught him the importance of collaboration and project management, both areas that he was lacking in before Ball State. “Ball State helped me learn how to delegate and collaborate properly while still meeting the expectation of quality I put on myself.” Overall, his time there was incredible and he made a lot of excellent relationships with his professors and peers.
Josh’s favorite and most useful class was Database Design. This class and its coursework were crucial in the development of his app, Virtual Halo. He was able to construct his app with the cleanest, most robust database possible from the beginning, which prevents hackers and viruses from getting in since it rarely needs to be modified. The database that Josh was able to design incorporates artificial intelligence and gets to know the individual wearer to be better prepared for an emergency. Without this course, Virtual Halo would not have been possible.
One of Josh’s favorite parts about the CICS program was the social skills workshops and courses that they offered. Although not a part of the official curriculum, this focus on preparing students for the real world had a deep impact on him. Things he learned during his time in CICS include how to behave at dinner parties, basic etiquette, and how to interact with CEO’s and other important individuals. He was so impressed that CICS saw that students were lacking in this kind of training and stepped up to provide them with the skills they needed to impress future employers. Now as a leader of a company, Josh looks for these things in prospective and current employees. He has taken it upon himself to mentor these individuals and help them with these skills just like Ball State taught him.

Inspired Innovation

After graduation, Josh moved to Peoria, IL to marry the love of his life. At first, Peoria did not present him with the job opportunities he wanted in high end hospitality technology. His goal was to eventually move to Chicago to pursue a career in the hospitality technology division of a large company. However, he decided to give Peoria a chance and took a part time management role in Philippi-Hagenbuch, Inc., a company that builds  specialized mining equipment. His task there was to update their computer system and equip the company with high-speed internet and email access. He quickly completed this two-year assignment in six months, which showcased to his employer his potential and strong initiative. Josh was then offered a sales position within the company and continued to climb the ladder, eventually becoming a Sales Manager and then the global Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
In 2015, Josh traveled abroad to meet with a client at a mine they were working at. Although the trip to the client went smoothly, on the way home they encountered a checkpoint that had not been there before. Stranded in the middle of the forest with no way to contact loved ones or seek help, the scenario that Josh and his colleague were facing was quite scary as they were threatened by unknown circumstances. The men that had stopped them were yelling and demanding different things of them in order to allow them to pass through peacefully. Eventually, Josh and his colleague made it home and everything was alright, but he had a profound realization. At the time, all of the amazing technology that had been developed did not address the problem of how to subtly and easily let loved ones and emergency services know if someone was in danger.
On the plane ride home, Josh sat back in his  chair and started sketching out the basic idea and design for Virtual Halo.  This idea took over his mind and he worked consistently on it to design the wireframe and how it would need to be coded. Within two weeks, he had signed a contract with a company to design an app that could be incorporated into most phones and other wearable technologies. Within that time frame as well, he wrote the first patent and applied for intellectual property on February 15th, 2015.
The primary function of the app was to operate as a SOS button that sent a signal out to emergency contacts and opened a map with a pin of the exact location of the individual to their contacts. Since then, Josh has built in more features for the app including the ability to ‘check in’ and a ‘going out’ feature that is perfect for hiking or traveling to areas with little to no signal. This function allows users to essentially set a timer of how long they think an activity like a hike would last. If the timer is not stopped before it goes off, the emergency contacts will be notified of the last known location of the individual. For Josh, something that was crucial to his design was that this technology be private and secure. Virtual Halo cannot be used to actively track people, rather it provides a safety net in case of emergencies. Eventually, this technology will be able to track other important information including fall detection, blood sugar and heart rate. The artificial intelligence component of this app will allow the technology to get to know each person uniquely, so it knows when that person’s vital signs become abnormal. Virtual Halo has grown to over 10,000 users and has become a multinational company, expanding to places like Belgium, New Zealand and countries in the Middle East. As it continues to expand, Josh continues to rely on the business and technology principles that he was taught at Ball State in order to provide a solid foundation for his company. Virtual Halo is not only the technology that Josh needed in 2015, but the solution and answer to a wide variety of problems and scary situations worldwide.

Advice for Students 

“My number one piece of advice is to be open to nontraditional career paths.” 

Over his career, Josh has learned that your career is not something you can plan out perfectly and sometimes it ends up even better because of this. After graduation, Josh had an idea of what he wanted to do and a few goals in mind, but he decided to take an opportunity that wasn’t a direct line to his dream job but gave him the opportunity to develop his professional skills and get a taste of the business world. If he had not taken that opportunity, he would not have had the same experiences that led him to starting Virtual Halo. When speaking on this, he stated “Don’t be so rigid that you turn down amazing opportunities that aren’t exactly what you are looking for.” He expressed that unexpected opportunities will lead you in the direction you want to go and you can end up in places better than you ever expected.

Josh also wants students to know that “they need to be flexible and a sponge.” These two lessons were core principles of the CICS program when he was in school and they have proved to be useful in the professional world. His professors taught him that every single experience in his life teaches something. And the more experiences that he had, the more prepared he was personally and professionally. Josh believes that this advice can be applied to any individual or line of work. This perspective allows students to view anything they do as a way to improve themselves and prepare for their future endeavors.