UD program connects students, entrepreneurs

mTrigger, a biofeedback wearable that assists with physical therapy, is being developed by University of Delaware and DelTech students through the UD's Snap In program at the Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships.(Photo: DANIEL SATO/THE NEWS JOURNAL)

Brian Pryor needed a team with wide-ranging skills and talents to bring his new physical therapy device company to life.

He needed a fashion designer, marketing guru, graphic designer, computer science expert and mechanical and electrical engineers. But hiring that many employees while the company’s lead product was still on the drawing board and not generating revenue proved tricky.

Last year the entrepreneur — who already launched a separate Newark-based medical device company, LiteCure — turned to the University of Delaware’s Spin In program. The initiative offers students real-world business experience and gives companies access to a diverse talent pool of students.

“I think from a business standpoint, it’s great,” Pryor said. “It allowed us to get a potential employee base. I’m most impressed with the recruiting of the students they brought into this program. The students really came together as a team.”

In fact, one of the students, Amy Lalime, is the first employee for Pryor’s new company, mTrigger. Lalime, a marketing major who graduated in May, has worked on mTrigger’s first product since she was a student.

“I was looking for something during the school year that would be close to what I’d be doing after graduation,” Lalime said. “The program has taught me how to apply what I’ve learned in school to a team of engineers. That is more interesting to me than working at a coffee shop.”

And the results speak for themselves. A mere idea in early 2014, mTrigger is expected to launch by the end of the year and it’s product will be available for sale online and through physical therapy clinics in January.

The mTrigger device allows physical therapy patients to record the intensity, speed and range of muscle motion by tracking the their movement. It can be plugged into a headphone port of an iPhone or tablet while the other end attaches to sensor pads on a patient’s skin.

Patients can monitor progress by using the device to play games that also serve as motivational tools to keep up with therapy. In addition, the device can save individuals money by reducing their need for physical therapy sessions.

“We each have our particular roles and we have the freedom to design and build this as we like,” said Adam Engelson, a University of Delaware senior and Electrical Engineering major. “I think that’s a really important experience you won’t get from an internship. If we all graduated, we could survive as an independent company.”

Pyror isn’t the only entrepreneur who has taken advantage of this program. Since it began in November 2012, 100 students from 11 departments in five of the university’s seven colleges have worked on 14 projects. Of those projects, 10 have been completed and six graduating seniors received employment offers.

“You can’t get a better deal than this when you don’t have the resources and skills you need,” said David Weir, director of the University of Delaware’s Office of Economic Innovation & Partnerships, which runs Spin In. “Here you can get a team of the brightest kids in Delaware.”

Weir highlighted other companies that have utilized Spin In, including PocketFarmer a mobile app for horticulture industry. PocketFarmer enable farmers to photograph trees or crops that show signs of disease and diagnose the issue by matching the photograph with an online database.

Another app developed through Spin In, ConnectHub allows pharmaceutical sales managers to evaluate the performance of sales representatives when they are traveling.

Spin In is not just available to technology start-ups, Weir said. He is currently trying to build up a consortium of Delaware companies to participate in Spin In. All but one of the ongoing projects are in the state with the remaining company just across the Delaware Memorial Bridge in New Jersey.

“This program could have a huge impact for the Delaware economy,” Pryor said. “If people start stuff here, people are going to stay here.”

Weir cautioned the program will be only be successful if they attract the right type of companies.

“The entrepreneur has to be interested in mentoring the students as well as making money,” he said.

The University of Delaware program is open is open to Delaware Technical Community College students. One such student, mechanical engineering major Jordan Burchfield, is also a member of the mTrigger team. Weir said he hopes to involve other academic institutions in the state.

Students participating in the program have the option of receiving course credit or payment. Engelson, Burchfield, and Lalime all said they accepted payment. The students are paid through a grant by the National Science Foundation, according to Weir.

Engleson said the experience and training is the most valuable aspect of Spin In.

“Everything on this device, I’ve had to put together,” he said. “Most of this has been learning as I go. I initially wanted to do this program to get some experience, but now this has absolutely made me want to be an entrepreneur.”

Contact Jeff Mordock at (302) 324-2786, on Twitter @JeffMordockTNJ or jmordock@delawareonline.com.