Project Vive takes major steps with the Summer Founders Program

From new technology to new hires and website development to promo video production, Project Vive has grown significantly since its last update in March. Project Vive seeks to better the lives of the non-verbal by providing “a voice for the silent.”  The creation of the assistive speech device spawned from an exchange student trip that founder, Mary Elizabeth McColloch took as a senior at Bald Eagle High School.

The start-up’s reception as a Summer Founders Program team with a $10,000 grant attached has offered significant time and financial freedom to Project Vive these past few months. The program has given the team mentors in the form of 2003 alumnus and co-founder of Sincerely and Xobni, Matt Brezina and current senior, Eli Kariv. Summer Founders has also provided valuable access to entrepreneurial services like Amazon’s Web Services and networking/educational opportunities each week with leaders in various business fields.

“I’ve learned a lot in the last few weeks,” Mary Elizabeth says while laughing about selling meetings and marketing the product. As a biomedical engineering student, the Summer Founders Program has been extremely valuable for insight into the business and marketing world that the founder has not had experience with academically.

Vive Device in use

Words are selected by movement of the Vive Device worn on a user’s wrist.

Mary Elizabeth’s prior experience working with children stricken with cerebral palsy in Ecuador offered insight into how to create an assistive speech device that is as simple and personal as possible. It was duly noted that there was a need for a device to help the non-verbal communicate, but that it was also necessary for that device to allow the user to maintain eye contact, utilize facial expression, and harness the most power from the littlest bit of effort. Thus, Project Vive offers one design in the form of a watch in which the user most lift their arm to select the words he or she wants to communicate. The user can hear the word options in a Bluetooth headset (a new feature) and once the sentence is built, it is played out loud from small speakers attached to the user’s wheelchair.

A new communication device has been introduced since March that utilizes even more specific of a movement: the bending or pressure from a finger. The Project Vive team has begun to develop a glove that slides over a non-verbal’s finger and tracks his or her flexation and pressure in order to select the desired words. This is a huge accomplishment as many non-verbal individuals only have control of a few joints such as in the finger.

Looking into the future, the device will expand movement options for communication. One of the adults that Mary Elizabeth specifically bonded with in Ecuador was Christina who only had control of her toes. The team hopes to alter the glove currently for the finger to work with toe movements and pressure.

Mary McColloch is continually motivated by the non-verbal children she worked with at an orphanage in Ecuador.

“I’m excited for the day that I can go back to Ecuador and give Christina the device,” Mary Elizabeth says with a smile on her face.

Aside from technological advances and marketing skills, the team has also grown. Four new members have been added since the spring, one of which is a professional who discovered and personally contacted Mary Elizabeth to offer his expertise in software development. Project Vive has also utilized online freelance services to find a producer of a promo video, “The example video that the team sent us was great. They added there own ideas and really grasped the concept.”

The promo video will be a key component of the crowdfunding campaign that Project Vive hopes to kick-off in the fall. The campaign will most likely be through Indiegogo to stress the humanitarian frame of Project Vive’s past, present, and future development. Mary Elizabeth is also planning to apply for a contest co-sponsored by Clinique and Ted to award $20,000 to a women with a smart idea.

In the meantime, the Project Vive team will continue device development and begin prototyping once the IRB process is approved, a step that will hopefully be completed in the next few months. Mary Elizabeth will continue to reach out to United Cerebral Palsy for a partnership as well. Next week, the team will be meeting with United Cerebral Palsy’s Life Lab Director, Josef Scarantino. This element of UCP identifies and helps to develop projects like the Vive Device that seek to better the lives of people with disabilities.

Project Vive’s progress with the Summer Founders Program matched with the growing expertise and focus of the team will make for an exciting fall semester supporting a genuine, humanitarian cause.