by Chris Keshian, MIT delta v Program Manager
After they were accepted to join delta v – the premiere MIT accelerator– five recent MIT mechanical engineering graduates were forced to pivot when COVID wreaked havoc on their initial market.
Their original concept was UpLift, a fully mechanical ramp that allowed airport baggage handlers to load luggage into planes swiftly and safely.
The team had made significant traction before joining delta v when they proved to airlines that their product eliminated back injuries without slowing down the loading process. Attracted by the prospect of saving time and money, several airlines were already in talks with the fledgling company, and the team had plans to present to the Innovation Team at Delta headquarters.
“During the first week of the accelerator, it became evident that COVID was not going to be a couple month ordeal,” said Loewen Cavill, the team’s CEO.
As the focus of their airline contacts drifted from innovative products to crisis management, the team decided it was time to reassess. On June 10th the team began brainstorming hundreds of new ideas backed with user interviews, and by June 17th, they had landed on a new direction: a product for menopausal women.
The seeds of their new idea were planted a year earlier, when Cavill and Claire Traweek, CFO, met at MEMSI, a Hong Kong MIT hardware hackathon. There they first realized the market need for a product that alleviated the debilitating discomfort and disruptions caused by menopause symptoms.
The team immediately began primary market research, talking to more than 300 women in their target market. Concurrently, they began prototyping a system that sensed when women were going to have a hot flash and activated a cooling mechanism.
“We were fortunate that our team was full of builders,” said Traweek. “Everyone on the team can build, so we had lots of eyes on the problem.”
“We were, and still are, in that undergrad, all-nighter, focused mindset,” said Cavill, “so we didn’t really have a work/life balance yet, which definitely allowed us to build faster.”
Before testing the products on their target market, they first needed to refine their design.
“We realized that spicy foods illicit a similar biological response to a hot flash, so we got 11 of our friends to eat spicy food and serve as test subjects for our sensors,” said Cavill.
When they were not getting an adequate enough biological response, Emilio Sison, Chief Manufacturing Officer, decided to step things up.
“I ate an entire habanero to trigger a greater response. The pain builds up after you eat it. The first few seconds are fine, and then you begin to realize you’ve made a terrible mistake,” said Sison.
Sison ended up eating full habaneros on three separate occasions. To simulate a hot flash waking someone up at night, Sison once set an alarm and ate a bowl of pre-prepared habaneros in the wee hours of the morning.
“The idea is that you’re supposed to go back to sleep after the cooling mechanism kicks in, but I definitely didn’t go back to sleep,” said Sison.
He did, however, get great data on how the sensors interfaced with the cooling pad.
Despite the slow shipping time from overseas suppliers, the team managed to create a fully functional product in under a month. When they were unable to get parts in time they found workarounds.
“Rather than waiting for the cooling components we needed, we bought a few mini fridges, disassembled them, and converted them into a cooling mechanism for our prototype,” said Traweek.
The team has also been able to make do with surprisingly little, and has yet to spend any of the money they received from the delta v accelerator. The scrappy, builder mentality this team imbues has been critical to their ability to pivot and execute quickly. Cavill also attributes the team’s speed with the division of ownership across tasks.
The team has recently filed a patent for their predictive cooling system, and is well on their way to launching their product.
AuraBlue is a cooling mattress pad for the 81% of women who experience sleep disruption due to hot flashes during menopause. AuraBlue’s cutting edge sensing bracelet has the ability to predict hot flashes and actively adjust the temperature of our mattress pad. Our algorithms learn users’ sleep patterns and hot flash profiles over time. Our hardware pairs with our app to deliver sleep metrics and recommendations, giving women back the sleep they deserve.