Organizations Join Forces to Develop Products that Help People
SANFORD, N.C. - When The Shoe-In was launched this spring to help people with limited mobility put shoes and socks on independently and with ease, it marked the beginning of an unusual venture.
It united a major research university, the state's assistive technology program, a community rehabilitation center and a new manufacturing company - all working together to make life better for a lot of people.
The result is just beginning to grow. But people who have used The Shoe-In, the first fruit of the venture, are already raving about its simplicity and effectiveness.
"For me and for many folks, a product that can so greatly simply a routine task of daily living can make a huge difference," says Annette Lauber, funding specialist for the North Carolina Assistive Technology Program, one organization involved in the project.
The original design emerged three years ago from a biomedical engineering class at Duke University, where instructor Larry Bohs asked undergraduates to develop a new product that would help people with disabilities become more independent.
It sounds like an ambitious goal, but Bohs' students have had plenty of success, collecting more than a dozen awards over the years from various national engineering competitions.
One team of three students was assigned to work with Lauber, who was convinced there was a significant need for some product that would help people put shoes and socks on quickly without having to bend over. The few existing products didn't quite fit the bill - they worked with shoes or socks, but not both - and the kind of device she and the students envisioned could save people 30 to 45 minutes in their morning routines every single day.
The only question: How could this good idea be developed into a viable commercial offering?
Enter Portal Idea Navigation, a newly-formed product development firm, which was already working with a community rehabilitation center in Sanford to develop products for people with disabilities. Through that existing relationship with LCI Inc. in Sanford, Portal had developed its Innovate brand - including The Wheel Deal, a nylon bag that attaches easily to the wheel of a wheelchair to carry laptop computers and other personal items safely and conveniently.
Better yet, LCI executive director Meg Moss and her clients were already involved in testing a range of related products.
Through various connections, the four organizations got together and quickly caught a vision of what the collaboration could produce.
After working through some initial details, Portal and Duke hammered out agreements on how the company and university could refine and develop student projects. LCI and The North Carolina Assistive Technology Program contribute to the effort by providing feedback on products in development and generating ideas for new ones.
Since work began on developing the prototype for commercial markets, the original design has been streamlined and shaped into the product recently introduced at a national trade show.
Initial orders for The Shoe-In are coming in now, and those sales have created even more opportunity for people with disabilities. Bob Jones, vice president for Portal, says the product is being assembled, packaged and shipped from LCI's newly developed Customer Service Center, creating work for clients being served by the rehabilitation center.
"This cooperative venture epitomizes our company's approach to developing new products," Jones says. "We work with all sorts of groups to find ways we can help people make their lives easier and better. Then, we work closely with those who will be using the products to make sure they're designed well and work effectively.
"All of us - Portal, Duke, LCI and the North Carolina Assistive Technology Program - believe this kind of cooperation could set the stage for many more ideas that will help people lead better lives."
Portal Idea Navigation LLC, based in North Carolina's famed Research Triangle Region, helps entrepreneurs of all kinds take innovative ideas to market. Its management team, which offers more than 150 years of manufacturing and consulting experience, evaluates ideas and helps entrepreneurs create realistic plans for product development, design, production and management. The company also manufactures, under its Innovate brand, its own line of products designed to help people with disabilities enjoy greater independence and a better life.
Vice President and General Manager
Portal Idea Navigation