Students’ serial entrepreneurship aims to head off concussions, pressure ulcers
Who she is
Anne Dye Zakrajsek didn’t come to Purdue with becoming a serial entrepreneur foremost in her mind. But she knew she wanted to be more than successful. She also wanted to do things that were “significant,” work that somehow made a difference. Originally, she thought about designing better prosthetics for folks who had lost limbs. The field remains an interest through her work with the IF Foundation, a Purdue effort to get custom-fitted assistive devices to people with disabilities.
However, the first projects the doctoral student in mechanical engineering helps commercialize are likely benefit patients who suffer from pressure ulcers, such as bedsores, and people in helmets who are in danger of concussive brain injuries, including football players and, eventually, soldiers.
What she's doing
She’s working on technology, already in the prototype stage, for applying vibration to parts of the body to help prevent and mitigate bedsores and other ulcers caused when someone is unable to move and constant pressure on the skin reduces blood flow to an area, or when a disease such as diabetes impairs blood flow. Her doctoral work will include computer modeling and experiments to further illuminate how vibration enhances fluid flow. She also plans to do some clinical testing.
Meanwhile, her project to redesign padding for football and other helmets takes a systematic approach to the problem by protecting wearers from concussive forces with multiple energy absorption mechanisms. The system is now being tested by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, which establishes safety standards in the field and does safety certification of equipment.
How she got there
The pressure ulcer device was the senior design project from a group of Purdue mechanical engineering students, including Zakrajsek. They started out working on a way to prevent bone mass loss from extended stays in the weightlessness of space. But research showed the technology also could be applicable to preventing and mitigating pressure ulcers, a larger problem at this point, as well as a larger market.
The helmet system stems from work done for her master’s thesis and as a graduate research assistant in the Purdue Neurotrauma Group and for biomedical and mechanical engineering Professor Eric Nauman, a mentor who’s himself an entrepreneur and encourages his students to move their ideas along the path to being useful in the world at large.
The projects were disclosed through the Purdue Research Foundation (PRF) and its Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC). This is a requirement for commercializing intellectual property developed at the University, but it also serves to protect Purdue’s and the developers’ rights to benefit from the innovations. OTC helped with filing provisional patents and the office and PRF can assist Purdue staff and student innovators in filing copyrights and trademarks as well, along with setting up companies, marketing, and more. AMIPurdue, with a mission to commercialize promising Purdue-developed life science technologies by offering early-stage seed funding and business-related guidance, also assisted with development of the helmet system, providing testing tools on par with those of commercial manufacturers, among other things.
"Find a mentor, somebody whose goals really align with what you want to achieve, and stick with them," Zakrajsek says. "You're not going to know everything you need to know and you're going to have to learn a lot on the fly. If you have a mentor whose goals are the same as yours you can get a lot farther a lot faster."