LOWELL, Mass. – UMass Lowell students developing “smart” braces to track a patient’s recovery time from a knee injury have won the university’s annual engineering competition for aspiring entrepreneurs.
The concept for the brace, named ConnectKnee, led a field of 17 entries in the seventh annual prototyping competition held by UMass Lowell’s Francis College of Engineering. The competition calls on the student teams to present an innovative product or service in front of experts and awards start-up capital to turn the winning ideas into reality.
The competition is part of UMass Lowell’s yearlong DifferenceMaker program, which teaches students in all majors that they can use to start their own ventures to address business and social challenges.
ConnectKnee is an orthosis with biosensors that monitor the patient’s muscle activity and track the range of motion of the knee. The information collected by the device is linked to a smartphone with which the patient and the treating doctor or physiotherapist can assess the recovery time of the wearer, according to the biomedical engineer Alyssa Mulry from Rutland. She came up with the concept for the product after her cousin had been hung up for a long time after dislocating a kneecap during a lacrosse game.
“I’ve seen firsthand how limited and daunting recovery from a knee injury has been. Only then did the idea really work, ”said Mulry.
Fellow UMass Lowell students working with Mulry to develop the braces include mechanical engineering major Jackson Kelley of Walpole and biomedical major Tiffany Miller of Hooksett, NH
“We are surprised and extremely grateful to have won,” said Mulry after the event, held remotely via Zoom in December. “There were so many incredible teams there. The competition was very strong. ”
According to Kelley, pitching the students in front of the judges contributed to the team’s success.
“We worked a lot on the product’s business plan and I think it paid off,” he said.
With the win, the ConnectKnee team received $ 2,500 for developing the braces and automatically landed in the DifferenceMaker $ 50,000 Idea Challenge, the program’s largest pitch competition, which will take place this spring. The students are veterans of the challenge after winning a $ 4,000 award for a healthier lifestyle last year, including for ConnectKnee.
According to Mulry and Kelley, the team is busy designing a prototype for the braces.
“We can’t wait for individuals to try it out so we can get feedback. We also hope to continue working with the DifferenceMaker program and other mentors to see where the future of ConnectKnee can lead, ”she said.
The prototyping competition judges included UMass Lowell alumni Chad LaFrance of Texas Instruments; Mark Saab, founding trustee of the Saab Family Foundation; Ram Sudireddy, co-founder of Bento; and Manijeh Goldberg, CEO and Founder of Privo Technologies, along with Jack Wilson, President Emeritus of the UMass system. Wilson founded the Jack M. Wilson Center for Entrepreneurship at UMass Lowell, where he is a distinguished professor of higher education, emerging technology and innovation.
Since the DifferenceMaker program began in 2012, participants have raised $ 5 million in external funding, founded 38 companies, and registered or received 10 patents. These companies include Nonspec, a Lowell-based company that makes low-cost, adaptable prostheses.
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