Last year as bioengineering students Katie Lober, Jackson Rieb, and Sarah Schroeder began thinking about their senior capstone design projects, they decided they wanted to help people with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
The students were inspired by WSU alumnus Steve Gleason (1999), whom they had met in class through a video conference. For nearly a decade, Gleason has battled ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that causes progressive muscle weakness and paralysis. Last year he received a Congressional Gold Medal for his work to raise awareness of the disease.
“It was so inspiring to hear him talk,” Lober said. “He was literally talking because he got to use technology that had been developed by Microsoft.”
Now the students are seeking to patent their Zephyr Mattress, a mattress targeted to people with mobility or sleep issues, and to launch a company. The students recently earned a second-place finish in this year’s Northwest Entrepreneur Competition with their mattress design and business idea — one of two WSU teams to win prizes at the event.
The mattress has pressure sensitive oscillating cells that create the possibility of varied surfaces and firmness.
“It’s kind of like a Sleep Number mattress but with much greater resolution because this mattress would have 48 cells versus two,” Rieb said.
The Zephyr Mattress can be used by ALS patients and people recovering from surgery and is designed to be used both at home and in professional care facilities.
Schroeder and Lober are part of the Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute program, a WSU program that provides courses and hands-on experience for students interested in technological entrepreneurship.
“We had a lot of practice pitching from last year, making slide decks and understanding how to build financials,” Schroeder said. “All that stuff is not something you necessarily learn in a typical engineering class but that’s all super important to a business plan competition.”
Although the team is new to designing technology, the response and support they have received has been overwhelmingly positive. The students are particularly grateful for support from Carson College of Business Director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies Marie Mayes, Asa Brown with WSU’s Innovation Advancement & Partnerships, Professor Howard Davis in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, and Director of Entrepreneurship Ray Combs.
Many people have expressed how their technology could help someone they know, Schroeder said.
“Getting feedback like that is really impactful to us and makes us want to keep going on this project because we know that we can help these people,” she said.
Team Zephyr can be reached on Instagram @zephyr_mattress, on Twitter @MattressZephyr, or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org