A multidisciplinary group of Pitt students is helping people with mobility challenges live more independently.
Junior Isabella Stash from the College of Business Administration, and juniors Grace O’Malley, Melody Whittaker and Joshua Zito from the Swanson School of Engineering invented JacketJoy, a device that makes putting on a jacket faster and easier for people with mobility issues. Alums Ravi Gandhi and Amelia Wear (ENGR ’21) fill out the team.
Their ingenuity recently resulted in becoming the first team of Pitt students to win a prize in the ACC InVenture Prize competition—a pitch competition involving teams from the 15 universities comprising the Atlantic Coast Conference. JacketJoy earned second place and $10,000.
The project had its origins in the classroom. In the Art of Making engineering class, students need to identify a problem to solve for their capstone project. With the assistance of the local Parkinson’s Foundation, the JacketJoy team interviewed several people with Parkinson’s disease to learn about the challenges they face. They discovered that putting on a jacket was difficult for many of those they interviewed.
A class of its own
Read about more inventions with their origins in Joseph Samosky’s Art of Making class.
“We wanted to design a product that would help its users gain confidence and freedom. At the end of the course, we developed a prototype for a dressing aid that is simple to use, discreet and effective,” said Stash, who joined the team through a friendship with Gandhi, one of the engineering student co-founders.
“To come up with solutions to problems and be able to directly see them make an impact for people is an experience that’s hard to match,” said O’Malley, one of the product designers.
The team also got support from Pitt along the way. After an initial foray into the Big Idea Center’s Randall Family Big Idea Competition with their first prototype, they entered the competition again last year in 2020, winning a $15,000 prize.
They then formed a company, Reachable Solutions, and launched their first product, the JacketJoy.
“We are grateful for all the support we have received. It’s hard to believe that this level of support for student entrepreneurs exists at too many universities,” O’Malley said.
Stash said the Big Idea Center has provided assistance to the team every step along its journey and were thrilled when Reachable was selected to represent the University at the ACC competition.
“We were so proud to be given the chance to represent Pitt amongst such a talented group of peers,” she said. “The most valuable part of the InVenture Prize experience came from interacting with a group of like-minded and passionate individuals who are all so invested in the work they do.”
The next step for the company is to focus on bringing two additional products to market, for which the team has already filed for patent protection.
Reachable is a finalist to receive funding in the inaugural cohort of the Big Idea Advantage Fund. This fund, established with the support of Swanson School of Engineering alumni, is designed to assist Pitt student innovation teams interested in pursuing their ideas seriously to accelerate on the path to market.
The Big Idea Advantage Fund will provide investments of between $10,000 and $25,000 to Pitt student innovation teams. Moving forward, similar awards will be made in both the fall and spring.
O’Malley said the funding from the InVenture Prize competition and the Big Idea Advantage Fund, if they are selected, will provide capital to ramp up manufacturing and to begin marketing efforts to reach caregivers and physical therapy providers.
Stash said the entire team is committed to growing the company after graduating from Pitt.
“It’s so much more than what it started at. We’re so passionate about it because we can change people’s lives through this product and the ones still to come.”