Strong Arm and IdeaLab

Strong Arm and IdeaLab

(left to right):
RIT’s IdeaLab professors: John Schull, Carl Lundgren; Strong Arm Team Justin Hillery (wearing product and holding their Winning Pitch certificate), Sean Pettersen


“Lifting injuries cost [U.S.] industries $50 billion each year,” say weight-lifting enthusiasts Justin Hillery and Sean Petterson of Rochester Institute of Technology. That’s a lot of back ache.

However, if graduating seniors Hillery and Petterson secure the $50,000 they need for the next testing phase of their “Strong Arm” back brace and vest, the world may see some relief very soon. Over the last 1.5 years, the two designed and tested a vest that helps to direct the weight of heavy loads to strategic points of the back and torso where we’re strongest. This, they say, will go far in helping lifters to minimize and/or avoid injury. Their priority markets in the short-term are the materials handling market (think “construction” for example) and healthcare where workers are often called upon to lift patients from wheelchair to bed and so on.

Through a cord crisscrossing the back of the vest that connects to attached gloves in the front, the lightweight apparatus maneuvers the body to assume the proper posture for lifting when a lifting force occurs. When not lifting, the vest simply relaxes.

The prototype was presented Thursday at the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) conference in San Francisco, where Hillery and Petterson were one of 14 student teams presenting their inventions to the general public. There, selected teams also presented 3-minute video clips where they “pitched” their inventions. The RIT duo won $1,000 for the “Best Video Pitch”.

They were elated, but not too surprised. Product market-readiness aside, they have also been working very hard on their pitch. In January 2012, the two gym enthusiasts participated in a NCIIA IdeaLab 4-day boot camp where about 30 entrepreneurial students from multiple schools came together to learn and practice the necessary steps to successfully take a product from concept to market. Petterson and Hillery’s Strong Arm was not born by the crash course, but their winning pitch was. With the importance of the pitch drilled into them. They reworked theirs, won the NCIIA competition in the category on Thursday, and earlier the same day, Strong Arm Technologies Inc. was the only student-owned company chosen to pitch to investment group Hi-Tech Rochester. “We’re proud daddies,” beamed RIT professors Jon Schull and Carl Lundgren, who lead the IdeaLab January. They should be. The Strong Arm team is competing with far more experienced businessmen for Hi-Tech Rochester’s funds. While final decisions have not yet been made, the young entrepreneurs remain strong in the running.


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