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Jarred awake by their infant daughter's oxygen alarm, the couple raced into her bedroom to find the plastic tubing connected to the tank wrapped tightly around her neck. They unwound it, saving her from suffocation, but that scare showed that the basic oxygen tube was no longer an appropriate way to treat their daughter's infant sleep apnea.
The problem is that other options are either more cumbersome or expensive, said Jared Bruton, a Brigham Young University student pursuing a master's degree in mechanical engineering and business.
After the couple shared their struggles with Bruton, he knew there had to be a better solution. So in August 2016, he began developing one.
"We're just trying to make a product that's more safe and controlled," Bruton said.
The result is the Breathe Easy Mat, a thin, perforated pad that fits inside a baby's crib and releases oxygen only near his or her head. The idea landed Bruton and his team in the final round of the 2017 Utah Entrepreneur Challenge, which offers the top 20 contestants a chance at more than $100,000 worth of cash and prizes.
Bruton's idea exists only in computer models, he said, and he hopes to nab some cash through the challenge to develop a prototype, obtain patents and prepare for the Food and Drug Administration approval process.
The challenge is managed by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute at the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business. The top 20 groups will face judging next month, but there also is public voting open from 8 a.m. Tuesday to 5 p.m. April 14 on online videos that are available at lassonde.utah.edu.
To make the top 20 list, groups either won an event at their college as part of the Opportunity Quest competition series or entered an open round and were judged by professionals across the state. More than 200 teams competed for a chance to grab a spot in the top 20. Only a few of the finalists have female group members.
Another team competing in the challenge is XLynk Surgical, led by University of Utah student Brody King.
Studying biomedical engineering, King was shadowing a surgeon about two years ago and questioned the current method to prevent adhesions internal scar tissue that forms between tissues and organs after surgery. Many doctors apply a clear film to internal tissues during pelvic and abdominal surgeries to prevent adhesions, King said, but they often form anyway and cause the patient pain.
"The best product on the market right now only prevents adhesions 45 percent of the time," King said. "We want it to be easier to use and apply."
So, King and his teammates are developing a gel and a system to deliver it.
King brought Ari Hassett on to the team last fall after taking a class with her. Hassett, who is majoring in dance and biomedical engineering, said she hadn't considered exploring entrepreneurial projects until she spoke with King. Now, she said she expects to do this after graduating.
The entrepreneurial track, she said, gives her a way to "bridge both my passions: business and entrepreneurship can go into both arts and engineering."
Though the initial idea was King's, Hassett said she's been helping him develop ways to improve the prototype.
The group is mentored by Ram Nirula, University Hospital's chief of trauma, who said in a January YouTube video that he is looking for a product that works better than the current method.
"The standard product for adhesion prevention ... is cumbersome to apply and must be done in open surgery," Nirula said. "While [it] does help to reduce the risk of bowel obstruction, it is not as effective as it needs to be."
King's team is still exploring different ways to spray the gel into the body and testing the gel's chemistry to ensure it cures at the right speed. The next step is cadaver animal studies, he added, but all of this requires money.
A top 20 team out of Southern Utah University is competing with a totally different type of project. Jaxon Haderlie, who is pursuing his master's degree in accounting, in November opened an outdoor retail business in Cedar City.
After the local Sports Authority closed, Haderlie said there was a gaping hole in the outdoor equipment market. So he and his teammate opened Cedar Sports, which currently offers 24-hour ski and snowboard rentals.
The demand, he said, has been incredible and he wants to expand. But that requires capital, he added.
"It's a bigger market than we anticipated," he said. "We recognized it would pair well with a shop that provides more than just ski-related [gear] ... so we've been quickly trying to gather resources to be an all-service shop for all outdoor activities."
Top 20 teams as described by Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute:
• Breathe Easy Mat (BYU) – A thin pad that delivers oxygen to infants at night
• Cedar Sports (SUU) – Provides Cedar City and surrounding areas with high quality new and used outdoor recreational equipment
• Course Credit (USU) – Offers affordable online courses to non-traditional students who then transfer the credits they earn to online universities and community colleges
• Coverall Homecare (Westminster) – A subscription-based monthly home maintenance service
• Dentium Club (BYU) – Dental-grade whitening delivered to your door for a few bucks a month
• EMJ Medical (UofU) – Creating a simple, mechanically driven medical device that will be applied to laparoscope lenses and restore the vision field of the operating team while the device is still in the patient
• Gingerbracket Company (Weber) – A mess-free product that makes snapping gingerbread houses together easier
• Hashtaggy (UofU) – Provides a new and innovative way for students to find fun stuff to do with their friends
• LIT Outdoors (UofU) – An outdoor company that focuses on the emerging opportunities in the outdoor recreation industry
• Lunch Money (Snow College) – A fanny pack company that will design and sell multiple lines of hip and cool packs for people of all ages
• Neiybor (UofU) – A peer-to-peer marketplace for storage (neiybor.com)
• OverPowered (USU) – A junior sports league for the players of League of Legends
• PerkNow (UVU) – Streamlines the acquisition, implementation, promotion and distribution of convenient on-site services and desirable company perks
• Pleth Patch (UofU) – A low-cost, portable, wireless vital sign monitoring system for low and middle-income countries. This device will provide clinicians in developing nations increase the standard of care at a very low cost.
• Portal Cord (UofU) – Portal Cord creates a simplistic portable charger
• Savor Life (SLCC) – A food truck that meets the needs of vegan diners who want to "savor life" by enjoying the food truck experience
• SunShine Sync (UofU) – App improving transfers of value between medical salespeople and physicians
• Sweet Heart (BYU) – A maternity band-like wearable fetal monitor that can provide expectant mothers with real-time data to their smart phones about their baby's kick count, heart rate and fetal position
• Tenant Joy (Dixie) – A web app that helps with onboarding each student, making payment transactions easy and will also contain many more features
• XLynk Surgical (UofU) – A faster more effective postoperative adhesion barrier