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Students develop a company that helps restore dignity to senior citizens

Falcon News Service

April 4, 2018

Junior Reid Wilson has taken a personal situation and turned it into a research project. Wilson’s grandmother has struggled with incontinence issues for years and struggles to find adult briefs that can help with this issue. The project attempts to fix that.

Wilson, Forrest Close and Miles Peterson created a research project for the Innovation Challenge, which was sponsored by the College of Business and Economics, at UW-River Falls this semester. The goal of the project was to design an adult brief that addressed concerns from patients and their caregivers. The project won first place at the challenge and the team is preparing for the next round, the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament.

Innovation Challenge

Forrest Close, Reid Wilson and Miles Peterson present their business idea and process for improving the lives of incontinent individuals to business leaders during the Innovation Challenge 2018. (Photo by Kathy Helgeson, University Communications)

The three-member team conducted market research by visiting 10 nursing homes and speaking with residents, registered nurses, certified nursing assistants and purchasing agents. The topic of their discussions centered around issues with current adult briefs.

“We’ll go and interview registered nurses and they will tell us things that we didn’t know before that would have been missed if it wasn’t for the interview,” Close said.

A theme that quickly emerged was one of difficult usage and embarrassment, which is where the name of the company emerged from.

“What we are modeling this on is fixing the leakage and improving the ease of use, is feeding the central issue we are trying to address which is dignity (for the patients),” Close said.

Songen is a word in the Japanese language that translates to dignity. The main goal of the company is to alleviate issues of embarrassment, particularly those living at assisted living homes.

“There’s a lot of humiliation and discomfort associated with living at those assisted living homes,” Close said. “If we can at least help with this issue, an issue that is high on the list of the challenges that senior citizens face at these homes.”

Another challenge users encounter is with the adhesive on the briefs. If the user or caregiver needs to make adjustments to the brief, the adhesive does not re-adhere, causing it to leak. The prototype designed by the students does not utilize adhesives in the design, thus eliminating the issue.

The students are also employing another technique to conduct research to prepare for the next step in the challenge, the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament. This technique involved the hiring of a salesman who is paid through commissions.

“He will be going around to different nursing areas and trying to get letters of intent,” Peterson said. “That is a big key factor in winning the next leg of this race, a letter of intent from different businesses saying that if this product did go to market, they would definitely be interested in purchasing it.”

The letters of intent allow the students to gauge interest and continue their product development. By placing the prototype in front of potential clients, they continue to improve the product.

The students have two mentors: Dr. Marina Onken, associate professor in the College of Business and Economics, and Danielle Campeau, director for Center for Innovation and Business Development. Campeau mentored the team through the startup and development phases of the project.

“This means referring the team to partners that have expertise in specific areas of need,” Campeau said. “This process forces teams to get out of the building and interview unbiased individuals about their business idea. This primary research provides critical information to the team as they make decisions regarding their business model.”

Part of the company’s business model is built around research pertaining to the demand for the product. Peterson said that their research is showing that the baby boomer generation is driving demand for quality adult briefs.

“It’s essentially medical. It’s something that you are not going to forgo because the economy is bad, you need that product no matter what,” Close added.

While the market may be demanding quality adult briefs, the next challenge for the team is the Wisconsin Big Ideas Tournament that will be held on April 21 in Madison, Wis. The tournament is open to all undergraduate and graduate students at any of the UW System campuses. The winning teams will have the opportunity to compete at the International Business Model Competition in May.

If Songen wins at the tournament, they would not be the first UW-River Falls team to compete in the international competition. AgSpy, a precision agriculture company, competed last spring.

Regardless of the outcomes of the tournament, the students are accomplishing what they set out to do – giving some dignity back to senior citizens suffering from incontinence.

“We want to address an issue,” Close said. “We want to help people and that is what this product is doing.”

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