For their senior design project, five undergraduate students studying bioengineering at Temple University’s College of Engineering were assigned with creating a new brace for people with Dropped Head Syndrome, a rare condition characterized by severe weakness of the neck, shoulder and arm muscles. Over the course of the fall semester, the five women engineers worked together to design their prototype, the C.H.A.T Brace.
The C.H.A.T Brace team includes CEO Rachel Gouveia, ENG ’22, chief engineer Lucy Eppert, ENG ’23, head of marketing Grace Buckwalter, ENG ’23, chief revenue officer Ciara O’Donohoe, ENG ’22, and director of human resources Elena Paoli, ENG ’22.
To create the prototype for the brace, they began by conducting research—talking to patients with Dropped Head Syndrome and interviewing clinicians treating those living with the condition. From this initial research, the team realized that the braces currently existing on the market actually created more problems for patients than actual solutions. The team knew their design needed to be durable, accessible and versatile, while also being an improvement to current products.
“We didn’t realize that Dropped Head Syndrome was such a large market of individuals until we started looking into it,” says Gouveia.
That next semester, O’Donohoe learned about the Be Your Own Boss Bowl® (BYOBB®) through a visiting lecturer in one of her classes at the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Institute (IEI). She went back to her team to share news about the upcoming competition, and they got to work preparing their senior design project for submission to the BYOBB.
One of the biggest challenges they ran into during preparation was understanding how to take their medical device prototype and turn it into a full-scale business. With help from the IEI, they sought out mentors on StartupTree, attended workshops to develop their business plan and spent time with Greg Fegley, the director of the 1810 Accelerator, to understand the intricacies of a business plan and how to turn their ideas into a reality.
“We’re all engineers, so we were lacking the business and financial background,” says Buckwalter.
Throughout the academic year, the IEI hosts various pitch competitions, the largest of which is the annual BYOBB which has a prize package including cash prizes and in-kind services packages worth over $200,000.
At the 24th annual BYOBB this year, the C.H.A.T Brace team won first place in the Undergraduate Track for their innovative product design and was commended for their work as an all-female engineering team. They believe that their brace will revolutionize the market by introducing a more durable and versatile product with a massive impact on a community of people in need of medical relief.
Their advice to future competitors? Work as a team. It gives you and your venture a built-in support system. They also encouraged others to take advantage of the resources offered by the IEI. Not only did the mentoring and pitch coaching help them succeed in the competition, but it can build confidence for any student or alumni looking to start their own business.
“If you’re willing to put in the time and energy, you could definitely win,” says Gouveia.
The biggest highlight for the team has been seeing the impact of C.H.A.T Brace and how it will change the market to help those in need. The entire project centered around making life easier for patients with Dropped Head Syndrome.
“When we produce the brace for the market, we know it will help a ton of people,” said Gouveia.
For the future, the C.H.A.T Brace team intends to patent the device and get FDA clearance to begin selling by 2024.
The impact of this Temple-made venture is best summed up by BYOBB judge Marilyn Anthony: “Although the market may not be huge, the impact it will have will have on the quality of life for those suffering from Dropped Head Syndrome will be tremendous.”
To learn more about C.H.A.T. Brace, and the other finalists in this year’s Be Your Own Boss Bowl, visit the IEI’s website. To watch their pitch and the entire 24th annual BYOBB, visit the IEI’s YouTube channel.