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Case Study

Student Entrepreneurs Thrive in Saint-Gobain Competition

SensID team

On April 1st, the Saint Gobain Student Design Competition brought together six groups for the final round of the competition. Every year, the competition asks engineering, business, and design students to invent a product that solves a real-world problem, create a prototype, and complete a business plan. These six groups worked throughout the academic year with a mentor and presented their final project to a panel of judges. The competition’s emphasis on engineering within a business context often leads to startup companies like this year's SensID, a student-run business.

Alexis Schilf and Jake Schwarz first came up with SensID during the Case’s Rising Engineers and Technological Entrepreneurs program (CREATE), a summer program that challenges engineering students to design a product for local companies and hospitals that solves a major problem. The group’s challenge was: How can we better prepare nurses to handle and pass medical instruments to surgeons before they enter the operating room? In the current practice, a preoperative nurse's training is wholly on the job and their first chance to practice their instrument identification and passing skills occurs during the course of an active surgery. Marc Bouchet later joined the team as a third partner and they designed a simulator for nurses to practice on.

In addition to the resources used during the CREATE program, the group has used the Technology Transfer Office (TTO) at CWRU and at University Hospitals to help with the legal portion of the business.

“One of the greatest hoops they helped us jump through is filing a patent,” Schwarz said, speaking about the university’s support. He also mentioned the Blackstone Launchpad as a major resource and they have also received some advice and assistance through CWRU's partnership with Nottingham-Spirk, a local design and product development firm.

“Looking back a year ago, there are so many things I’ve learned about business and product development,” Schilf said. “It’s been really cool.”

SensID plans on working on the product full-time during their summers, and ultimately finding partners within the healthcare industry. Being at the heart of medical institutions, like that of Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals, has been a great advantage for a product like theirs, a product oriented toward helping those in healthcare.

This isn’t the first time the competition has launched a company. Past student startups have included Lorktech, started in 2012 by Mark Lorkowski and his partners. Lorktech’s products aim to provide the best technology for the retail industry. Its first groundbreaking innovation was electronic shelf displays, something Lorkowski found to be a necessity in the United States and immediately filed a patent. Lorkowski first came up with the idea after finding that a listing price for a soda was incorrect. His innovation was the basis of a company, and it just may change the face of retail.

Carbon Origins was born during the 2013 competition. Apollo Board, one of the company’s first products, collects data for aerospace engineers and scientists when a rocket fails to launch. The data helps scientists trace the root of the problem. The company’s success has been sensational, so much that creators William Wettersten, Amogha Srirangarajan, Kailey Shara and Peter Dixon, have moved to California to test their product.

Remarkable companies have grown out of this competition, and there is even more anticipation and excitement for future companies to come.


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