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Student Edition Spotlight: ATS Innovations, Before We Begin, College in Color, Synchro Motion

36|86: Student Edition, part of 36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival, is an opportunity for student entrepreneurs to network and learn about what is happening in the startup world. 13 startups will pitch for a total of $60k on Aug. 28. RSVP to attend.

Over the next three weeks, we will feature the finalists for 36|86: Student Edition. At the close of the series, YOU can vote for your favorite company. The crowd favorite will be announced at 36|86: Student Edition and awarded a $5,000 cash prize to invest in their business! Voting will open 8/4 and close 8/24.

Finalists Spotlight:

ATS Innovations (Tennessee Technological University)

ATS Innovations developed the MetaFlex Therapy Glove. The glove is designed to increase hand strength and help ease the painful symptoms of arthritis in a way that is easier and more user-friendly than the methods currently available. They aim to make this product affordable and widely available, and therefore allow the millions of Americans who struggle with arthritis to regain their confidence and independence.
Team: Ashley Wheeler, CFO, Tennessee Tech University Grad; Téa Phillips, CEO, Tennessee Tech University, Senior; Sergio Ramirez, COO, Tennessee Tech University, Senior
Connect with ATS Innovations: Instagram: metaflextherapyglove; Twitter: @MetaflexG

What inspired your company?

Our company was founded after two of our members took part in a clinical immersion research trip in Havana, Cuba, last summer. It was there that we interacted with several members of Havana’s elderly population, and were able to see firsthand some of the health struggles they face. This experience inspired us to create a simple yet effective device to help manage the symptoms of arthritis, which is a common ailment among the elderly population, and thus the MetaFlex Therapy Glove was born.

What’s your secret sauce?

Our secret to success is a simple one; we realize that every person we interact with has something to teach us. Our three founders came from three different degree programs, so interdisciplinary cooperation was a concept that we have valued from the very beginning. Rather than working with only other nurses or engineers to develop our product, we’ve reached out to business leaders, marketers, arthritis patients, physical therapists, hand specialists, and many more in order to give us the most comprehensive knowledge of how best to form and grow our business.

What is the best and worst thing about being a student founder?

The best part of being a student founder is having the opportunity to work with so many different people in various careers and areas of expertise, and the fact that so many of them have offered their time, effort, advice, and resources to help us further our company and reach our goals. It’s also incredible and inspiring to meet other student founders who are working on projects that have the potential to positively impact a multitude of people across the world.

The hardest part of being a student founder is balancing school with company work. We are striving to make this company the best it can possibly be, but for now we have to pace ourselves so that we can succeed in school as well. It can be frustrating, but we realize that completing our education will give us skills and opportunities that will be beneficial to the company in the future.

Where do you see your company in 5 years?

In five years, we hope to have reached our current long-term goal of bringing the MetaFlex Therapy Glove to market. In addition, we are hoping to build our company infrastructure such that other physical therapy/medical devices could be developed and brought to market in the future. Ultimately, we hope that in 5 years our ideas will have helped people across the world manage symptoms of various physical ailments.

Before We Begin (University of Tennessee, Chattanooga)

Before We Begin provide comprehensive sex education to youth and adults through a series of engaging tools and creative content — books, board games, e-games. The purpose is to bring sex education to the home to provide families with a medium to increase communication between parents and their children. Topics covered include emotional intelligence, bullying, eating disorders, mental health, basic human anatomy, reproductive organs, hormones, positive femininities and masculinities, sexuality, gender, healthy relationships, domestic violence, intimate partner violence, the process of sex, the menstrual cycle, contraception, consent, types of sex, and pregnancy.
Team: Kenzie Butera, Founder & CEO, UTC, Senior; Thomas Lane, CIO; Libby Byers, Board Member

College in Color (Belmont University)

College in Color is a mental health marketing firm dedicated to supporting student mental health through student-designed products, media, and university partnerships.
Team: Jordon Washington, CEO, Belmont University, Senior; Alex Ortiz, CMO, Belmont University, Senior
Connect with College in Color: Instagram: @Collegeincolor

What inspired your company?

During my position as a resident assistant at Belmont University, I had a resident, who was also a good friend struggling with transitioning into the college realm. My friend struggled with not feeling good enough, feeling unaccepted, and feeling incapable. We, myself and other RA’s, knew that he was strong, yet he needed support beyond encouraging words and pats on the back. My staff and I spent numerous nights up until 4 am talking to our friend and helping him cope with his depression, anxiety, and at times suicidal ideation until we could help him find an answer.

I realized during one of our conversations that he was always using a coloring book app when feeling low. I recognized this as an opportunity! One of the most powerful things I learned as an RA was the power of hope for a new day; we are taught in suicide prevention training to help them look forward to something that included another person. We agreed that we would use the app to send one another a colored picture every day. After a few more weeks my friend sought out and found professional help and I’m happy to say that this student is doing great.

Following this experience, another friend of mine asked If I had ever considered creating a coloring book for college students. I started researching mental health in college and the results were profound. Over 1000 college students every year take their own lives, and millions are heavily affected by depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Our mission is to change that.

What’s your secret sauce?

Our secret sauce is our mission to improve mental health awareness and funding through unique products, storytelling, and media. We believe that mental health treatment is not limited to professional mental health providers. We believe that the strongest means of support for those suffering from mental illness is community. No matter how the market changes we serve our mission and our customers, not our products.

What is the best and worst thing about being a student founder?

The best, and most rewarding, thing about being a student founder is the unique opportunities to network; to meet others and learn from them. I have met extremely smart, passionate, and caring individuals that I would never have known existed without taking the path that I have. I have shaken hands with millionaires and danced with world changers. I have been challenged and encouraged by mentors and colleagues, and I have been given the freedom to dream in ways I could never have before. Though I have not reached my ultimate goal, I continue to use what I have learned to help others.

The worst thing about being a student founder is the lack of structure and fear of failure. No one is telling you what to do, when to do it, or how to do it and living outside of that structure is hard. In most employment settings, you do your job and you go home. As an entrepreneur, you do your job the best you can and then hope and pray the rest doesn’t come crashing down. If one allows it, that fear of failure can be crippling.

Where do you see your company in 5 years?

In 5 years I see our company with at least 30 employees and becoming an up and coming “household name” in mental health awareness for our society, specifically a new generation that we will also encourage to pursue careers in mental health care. I envision celebrities wearing our products in support of the mission as well as witness thousands of lives being saved through our unique approach to mental health awareness in conjunction to the funding that we provide to mental health providers. My hope, goal, and mission is to share this symbol of hope while taking action to improve mental healthcare through our books, our clothing, and media.

Synchro Motion (Vanderbilt University)

Synchro Motion develops prosthetic limb technology to improve the lives of amputees while simultaneously addressing the pain points of the clinicians. They can do this by providing novel hardware solutions that better serve patients while considering the practicalities of operating a medical device company.
Team: Harrison Bartlett, Founder, Vanderbilt University, 4th-year doctoral student (Mech Engineering); Brian Lawson, Founder, Vanderbilt University, Postdoctoral Scholar (Mech Engineering); Michael Goldfarb, Founder, Vanderbilt University, Professor (Mech Engineering)

What inspired your company?

From working with amputees in a laboratory setting, we realized that we were unable to meet their needs directly through research alone and that we could commercialize our technology.. The current state of prosthetics is inadequate, and amputees are left struggling when faced with slopes or uneven terrain. We’re solving this problem by providing amputees and clinicians with a new “smart” prosthesis.

What’s your secret sauce?

In short, our secret sauce is our team. Our team is comprised of thought leaders in the prosthetics world with decades of rehabilitation engineering experience. That experience allows for creative engineering ideas to be applied practically to solve the daily problems of our amputee end users. Our prosthetic ankle technology leverages a number of inventive (and patent-protected) mechanical and electrical design ideas that give Synchro Motion a large technological advantage over its competition.

What is the best and worst thing about being a student founder?

The best thing about being a student founder is the resources available through Vanderbilt University. The school provides a lab space for tinkering as well as state-of-the-art facilities for testing our technology. The school also provides a wealth of expertise and mentorship from engineering faculty as well as members of the Wond’ry (innovation/entrepreneurship center) faculty. The worst part about being a student founder is the balancing act. Our team is trying to get the company off the ground while simultaneously meeting the requirements for graduation.

Where do you see your company in 5 years?

In 5 years, Synchro Motion hopes to be producing a line of state-of-the-art prosthetic devices and distributing these devices to a number of select clinics across the United States. In short, we hope to be serving our end users and improving their daily lives by providing them with mobility.


Check back next week to meet more finalists and mark your calendar to vote for your favorite startup starting August 4.

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