LOWELL, Mass. – A team of UMass Lowell students who launched a startup to design and mass-produce affordable prosthetic limbs recently won a national competition and $25,000 in seed money.
Called Nonspec, the venture took the top honor at the eighth annual American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Innovation Showcase, beating out eight entries from seven other universities. The prize is the latest of several accolades the startup has received over the past year.
The idea for Nonspec grew out of a student project that gained momentum through UMass Lowell’s DifferenceMaker program
, which teaches students entrepreneurial skills they can put to work solving business, technology and societal problems. In 2013, the team won the top prize of $5,000 in the DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge, through which UMass Lowell students pitch their ideas for new products, services and technologies to expert judges. That award provided Nonspec with funding to create its first prototypes of prosthetic forearms.
The prosthetics are designed using an innovative telescoping system of thermoplastic rods, enabling the devices to grow with the individuals who wear them.
“This means children in developing nations need to change their prosthetics fewer times throughout their childhood, allowing them to develop their muscles regularly and, overall, enjoy a more normal, active life. Our product can also be adjusted for adult clients,” said Jonathan de Alderete of Carlisle, Nonspec’s chief operating officer, who graduated from UMass Lowell in May with a master’s degree in innovation and technological entrepreneurship.
Nonspec hopes to bring the devices to market at $20 per unit – a cost the company says is vastly lower than that of traditional prosthetics. The startup will begin advanced testing of the prosthetic forearm this summer, along with looking for office space, creating a limited-liability company and developing additional products.
“We are also finalizing our lower-limb prosthetic design,” said Nonspec Vice President Erin Keaney of Groton, who graduated from UMass Lowell in May with a master’s degree in plastics engineering.
Other members of the Nonspec team include Katherine Cain of Malden, who recently graduated from UMass Lowell with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, and Brendan Donoghue of Shrewsbury, a history and engineering student who will start his senior year this fall.
Following its success in the DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge, the team won first place and $1,000 in the Plastics Application Design Competition presented by the International Association of Plastics Distribution. Entrepreneur Magazine also recognized the startup as one of the top 10 semi-finalists in the publication’s College Entrepreneur of 2013 contest.
“I feel great joy in seeing our students succeed,” said Robert Parkin, a UMass Lowell professor of mechanical engineering who has served as a Nonspec adviser. “The team is now pursuing up to five separate patents through the university’s Office of Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Property.”
“The university is thrilled to see the hard work and success of our students recognized and rewarded by respected national professional organizations like ASME,” said Steven Tello, UMass Lowell’s associate vice chancellor for entrepreneurship and economic development, who established the DifferenceMaker Program in 2012. “This is a sustainable business model and assistive technology device that strive to make a real difference in the world. It has been both rewarding and fun to watch the evolution of both the product and the Nonspec team.”
UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its 17,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers. www.uml.edu