Sometimes good ideas fall into your lap — sometimes they’re hiding right beneath it.
Binghamton University alumni Nathaniel Fisher, Bar Stern, and Dominick Pirozzi graduated in 17′ with a BS and 18′ with a MS in Biomedical Engineering. Post-grad they created the Pressure Ulcer Prevention Pad, and eventually PUPP, Inc., after a professor proposed the idea for their senior project.
“There was a doctor from the Decker School of Nursing, Ann Myers, and she went to the Watson faculty with a problem that she felt the nursing field was facing,” Fisher explained. “They were struggling with these pressure ulcers that people get from sitting in wheelchairs for a long time.”
Pressure ulcers, also known as bedsores, are a prevalent issue in hospitals and nursing homes, with more than 2.5 million people in the U.S. developing them every year. So the PUPP team set out to create a cushion that would help.
“Our primary target is entire nursing homes because that’s where you have a lot of people who are all at risk at the same time,” Fisher said. “It’s the kind of place where we can make the most difference at once and improve the day-to-day life of nurses by taking the load off of some of them.”
Fisher, Stern, and Pirozzi received reaffirming feedback when they presented their first prototype.
“That year of doing senior design was coming up with a really basic solution — a proof of concept,” Fisher said. “At the end of senior year we made a pretty successful first prototype that the whole department and the office of entrepreneurship really liked.”
In order to create the pressure ulcer prevention pad, the PUPP team used high accuracy heat maps to pinpoint the pressure points.
“The cushions aren’t custom made but they’re tailored around anatomical research that we’ve done to target these areas that are high risk,” Fisher said.
|This image is an example of the heat maps that PUPP uses. Shown is a person sitting with no cushion; the two red spots are the ischial tuberosities, which are informally known as the sit bones.|
After graduating with their BS degrees in biomedical engineering with a concentration in biomedical devices, Fisher, Stern, and Pirozzi decided to expand upon their project during their Masters’ program. As they developed their project, they learned that the pressure ulcer prevention pad has serious potential on the market.
“All of our backgrounds are in the same engineering field which is narrow, so we didn’t know the business side — how to run a company how to manage our finances,” Fisher said. “It wasn’t just that we had no idea about those things, but we wouldn’t have even known the questions to ask.”
By working with the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator and the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program, the PUPP team was able to hone in on their market.
The I-Corps short courses take entrepreneurs through the customer discovery process in order to prove, quantitatively, which market is right for them to tackle. Through the I-Corps program, the PUPP team found their ideal market: nursing homes.
Shortly after they found their market, the PUPP team met with Dan Mori, the Director of Business Incubation, to come up with a strategic plan for their product.
“Dan said ‘you have two options: you could either take this concept, and put a little work into it, and license it out, or you can make a full-fledged company at the incubator,’” Stern said. “It was like our baby — we made this and wanted to see it through.”
Their commitment to the project paid off. PUPP received over $23,000 in funding; including a $10,000 investment from the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Partnerships’ Binghamton TURBO program, a $10,000 investment from BingTech Ventures, and a $3,000 grant for customer discovery and prototyping from the Innovation Binghamton I-Corps site, which is funded by National Science Foundation (NSF).
Working within the Incubator and with the office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Partnerships allowed the PUPP team to receive advice from every angle.
“The Incubator has provided us with a lot of advisement on things we didn’t know considering our background is in engineering,” Stern said. “Asking questions we wouldn’t have asked and connecting us with people who can help with problems.”
Though they’re based in Binghamton, NY, PUPP plans on reaching markets throughout the United States.
“We want to start local and expand to New York City, and then the North East, and hopefully be popping up in every nursing home,” Pirozzi said.
PUPP is currently working from their office in the Incubator and has high hopes for the future of their invention.
“Everyone’s super receptive and open to giving us advice that we can incorporate into our designs,” Fisher said. “We’re not uncomfortable asking people for help.”
By Julia Carmel