By Sarah Favot
LOWELL --Two UMass Lowell mechanical engineering graduate students saw that crutches, in their traditional form, do not give users the ability to interact with their mobile devices as easily as people who don't use crutches.
So Adam McLaughlin and Jordan Tye created a prototype crutch with custom grips that can support technology. They pitched their idea Friday night to a panel of judges at the Merrimack Valley Sandbox's first-ever pitch contest for youth entrepreneurs -- and won first-place.
The Merrimack Valley Sandbox is an initiative funded by the Deshpande Foundation that supports entrepreneurship and leadership. It sponsors pitch contests where entrepreneurs can pitch their ideas and win prize money to fund their ideas.
More than 40 students and youth entrepreneurs pitched their ideas to judges at the Catalyst Pitch Contest Friday night at UML's Coburn Hall.
One of the judges, Trish Fleming executive director of the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge, said the students' pitches she saw competed on the same level as the pitches she hears from MIT and Harvard University students and alums.
"You guys are right up there with them," she said.
Ray Riddick, executive director of the Greater Lowell Community Foundation, who spoke on behalf of the judges, said they were impressed with the McLaughlin and Tye's prototype and their understanding of their market.
After two years of development, through the use of 3-D imaging and 3-D printing, McLaughlin and Tye designed a custom grip using the user's hand print. They have also created devices that are implanted into the grip that allow users to change a song on their iPod, or use a flashlight.
According to the young men's research, 7 million people in the U.S. use crutches. Their goal is to reach 1 percent of the market in the first year, which would yield a $1.5 million profit, according to their calculations.
They have named their company Supporting Devices.
The second-place pitch came from Claudio Rafael, of Middlesex Community College, for his idea called Visual Accuracy, a graphic design company for printed ads, marketing, animations and television commercials.
The third-place prize was awarded to Middlesex Community College students Stephanie Maglio, Ginger Khoyi and Brian Khoyi for their idea, Read 2 Me, an Android-based mobile app.
The app will allow the user to create and play audio and video files synched to text files. For example, a grandmother can record reading a bedtime story to her grandchild, who will then be able to play the audio and read the book at the same time.
Ginger Khoyi said the project was inspired by her husband who is being deployed overseas in April, who will be able to record a message for Khoyi to listen to.
"It's the first time I'm going to have to go without him for an entire year, at least I'll have him in my hand," she said.
Audience members were able to text in votes after the pitches to vote for their favorite. The two fan-favorite winners were Greater Lawrence Technical High School students Keisha De Leon and Jiangely Velasquez for PYT Fragrance and Lucky Henry, of Merrimack College for College Power.
The other finalists were: Derek Coleman, Jack Price, Alexis Gilardi, Elizabeth Libro, Paolo Settipane and Jose Cruz.