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Addressing the concussion problem, head on

Tufts Gordon Institute finalists for $100K New Venture Competition

OnGuard, created by four MSIM students, placed second in the Tufts 100k competition on April 6. OnGuard is a concussion warning system that provides instant impact alerting, data tracking, and analysis to coaches, trainers, and athletes.

Every year, over 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur in the U.S., and 30 percent of those go undiagnosed, posing a huge risk to athletes.

OnGuard, created by four students in the Tufts Gordon Institute MS in Innovation and Management (MSIM) program, is trying address this problem head on. They have developed a wearable concussion warning system that provides instant impact alerting, data tracking, and analysis to coaches, trainers, and athletes.

The team, made up of MSIM students Trish O’Connor, Barton Liang, Edith Hu, and Paget Stanco, developed their idea during the fall semester Innovation Sprint, when MSIM students work to develop a new product or service idea that solves a real-world problem.

On April 5, OnGuard competed as finalists in the annual Tufts $100k New Ventures Competition and placed second in the Healthcare / Life Science Track. OnGuard competed with seventeen finalist teams from across the university for prizes and in-kind services totaling more than $100,000.

To address the concussion problem, which has received an influx of media attention in recent years, OnGuard has developed a soft, flexible sensor that would be encased in a disposable adhesive and placed on each athlete’s head. The sensor would then communicate through Bluetooth to coaches and trainers on the sidelines. Using the mobile app, they can receive reports and data that allow them to apply timely medical treatment and hopefully reduce harmful impacts of concussions.

Since the team does not yet have a prototype for their product, they needed to make their pitch stand out in a diverse field of ventures on the day of the competition.

“Everyone here knows someone who has experienced the detrimental effects of a sustained concussion,” Paget said to kick off the pitch on April 5. “We are here to make sure every impact is detected and treated for any athlete, of any age, of any sport.”

The team emphasized that what makes their product stand out is its ability to collect valuable data that can then be used for analytics. And as Tufts students, their business plan gives them a unique edge in a competitive market.

“Our connection to Tufts athletics gives us a clear entry point into the market, which other ventures might not have,” said Trish.  “Coaches, athletes, and trainers have validated that this is a critical problem – they agreed that our solution is unique and powerful.”

Kevin Oye, Director of the MSIM program, mentored the team throughout the 100k competition. “They picked a problem that mattered, and a problem that they personally cared about,” he says. “I think that helped drive the innovation and creativity around how they could actually put something together that in the end was a very defensible and competitive solution.”

The students used their own personal backgrounds as athletes to develop a product that could benefit athletes, trainers, and coaches. Each team member brought a diverse set of skills to the team: Edith has a background in business administration; Trish studied electrical engineering; Barton studied civil engineering and also copy edited for the Tufts Daily as an undergrad; and Paget has worked in digital marketing for startups and studied art history as an undergrad.

“A lot of innovation occurs by putting people together who can look at a situation from completely different angles,” says Oye about the OnGuard team members. “Adding diversity to the team increases the probability that you will think of something innovative.”

By building on specific skills learned during their MSIM courses, such as finance, market research, and customer validation, the team was able to create a sound business plan.

“We learned all those skills this fall, so it was really awesome to pull all those courses together and take what we learned to create a business plan,” Paget says.

In preparation for the 100k event, the team was coached and mentored by Gordon Institute faculty and learned to craft their presentation to be most effective for the judging panel. They also had the chance to consult with experts who were brought in by competition organizers.

“Translating our idea into a pitch that actually gets people excited was the big challenge,” says Barton.

After the presentation, the team fielded questions from a panel of judges who are experts and entrepreneurs. Judges provided valuable feedback and advice about how to bring the product to market and differentiate themselves from competitors.

Following the competition, the team is now focused on incorporating their business. They have also been consulting with lawyers about patenting their product, have advanced to the second round of judging for MassChallenge Boston this summer.

Based on their journey, the students have some advice for young entrepreneurs who may be in their shoes in the future: “Roll with it,” Paget says.