Class is in session for the next generation of University of Michigan startups in TechArb
's 2017 winter cohort.
Between now and mid-April, the student venture accelerator's latest group of 11 student-run startups will conduct customer research, refine their business models, and receive mentorship from industry experts.
For the team at ArborThotics, that includes working with orthotists, federal regulators, and 3-D printing labs to continue the work they started in their capstone software engineering class last fall at U-M. ArborThotics cofounder Dom Parise and his team developed software to help produce custom ankle-foot orthotics using U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved scanners and 3-D printing.
Parise says producing this type of custom orthotics is currently a lengthy process that can involve plaster molds and specialized plastics baked for several days by technicians. From consultation to prescription to finished product, the process typically takes two to three weeks.
"It's really long, and kind of archaic at this point," Parise says. "With the 3-D printing, we can now print them in probably six to eight hours on the high end."
With FDA sign-off on the product and process, Parise hopes the team will have its solution on the market by mid-summer, but he's prepared for a longer haul.
"We can improve the product at the rate of software, but sales are at the rate of healthcare," he says.
For now, Parise and his team enjoy working with a group of like-minded entrepreneurs who are all at similar stages in their work, as well as the structure and deadlines provided by the TechArb program. For instance, the accelerator holds weekly meetings in which each company reports on its progress.
"The entrepreneurship process can be solitary if you don't have the right network," Parise says.
In addition to custom orthotics, the new TechArb cohort includes ventures working on original approaches to hassle-free funeral planning, healthy food choices, and connecting people living with chronic illnesses for local peer support.
TechArb was founded in 2009 as a joint venture between the U-M Center for Entrepreneurship
and the Zell Lurie Institute
at U-M's Ross School of Business
. Forty teams have participated in TechArb this year, and have since received more than $2 million in funding.