‘Portable Hug’ To Improve Quality of Life for Autistic Patients Takes Top Prize at UMass Amherst Competition

AMHERST, Mass. – The $50,000 grand prize in the Technology Innovation Challenge held at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has been won by Therapeutic Systems. Their concept business plans to market a novel “deep-pressure” vest that will improve mental health care and quality of life for people with mental illness, especially autism, by providing a “portable hug.”

The vest, developed by UMass Amherst mechanical engineering doctoral student Brian Mullen, will provide discreet anxiety relief to anyone, anywhere, anytime, by applying a hug-like sensation called deep pressure touch stimulation, according to Mullen’s winning business plan. An estimated 3 million to 4 million patients suffer from developmental disorders such as autism.

Professor Sundar Krishnamurty of the UMass Amherst mechanical and industrial engineering department was Mullen’s faculty advisor for the competition.

The TIC is a competition for the best entrepreneurial technology business plan produced by students, recent alumni and faculty advisors on campus. The judging ceremony was held in the Campus Center on May 8.

The $15,000 second-prize winner was Engineered Response, a concept-stage company developing an emergency beacon that can be used in any safety helmet, which activates during an accident to alert emergency crews and give them an exact location for the crash. Brycen Spencer, a mechanical engineering undergraduate student, is the founder of Engineered Response, with Jonathan Loughlin as his product researcher and Robert Hyers, a professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, as his faculty advisor.

The $7,500 People’s Choice Award, voted by the audience at the TIC event, was won by Rentabilities, a working company launched in April of 2007 that streamlines rental businesses by providing them with online stores and point-of-sale systems. Rentabilities was founded by Alexander and Andrew Cook.

The Technology Innovation Challenge is run by the College of Engineering, the Isenberg School of Management and the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at UMass Amherst. The two platinum sponsors of the TIC are the intellectual property law firm of Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks, P.C. and Saint-Gobain High-Performance Materials.

The TIC is held in two phases. An Executive Summary Competition, or first phase, is judged in December. This year the judges in December awarded six prizes totaling $12,500. Each May the TIC holds its second phase, when teams enter completed business plans to compete for the grand prize.

The TIC, established in 2005, was originally the brainchild of Michael F. Malone, Ronnie and Eugene Isenberg Distinguished Professor of Engineering and dean of the College of Engineering, and Soren Bisgaard, the Eugene M. Isenberg Professor of Technology Management. Malone and Bisgaard established the TIC as a competition that promotes innovation education based on technology conceived by faculty, students and alumni at UMass Amherst. The competition focuses on interdisciplinary student teams, in consultation with faculty members who are experts in the technology. The object of the competition is for each team to conceive a product with regard to its scientific and technological design, and then creates a business plan for its commercialization. The competition is open to teams that include at least one full-time UMass undergraduate or graduate student or recent graduate.

“It’s a great educational tool,” says Malone of the competition. “Innovation is an area where learning by doing is more effective.” Malone adds that, because it is focused on technology-based businesses, the competition encourages science and engineering students to think of commercial applications for their work.

Besides Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks, P.C. (a TIC sponsor since its inception) and Saint-Gobain, the sponsors are Artiman Ventures, Joseph Bohan, Paul Carney, Forge Partners LCC, Eric and Candy Janszen, Kodiak Venture Partners, Scott Perry, SABIC Innovative Plastics, VISTAGY, Stephen Dunne, Karen Lauter Utgoff Consulting, Michael Turnstall, Revolabs, Tom Gray, Long River Ventures, Bart Stuck and Mary-Jane Cross.

For more information about the TIC, consult the Web site at www.umass.edu/innovation.