While pursuing her master’s degree at California Polytechnic State University, NCIIA alumna Tricia Compas-Markman discovered the pressing need for access to clean, drinkable water following natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina. One of the United States’ deadliest natural disasters on record, Katrina left more than 1,800 people dead and thousands more homeless and struggling to survive in dangerous situations. Immediately following the disaster, Tricia observed that getting clean water to those in need presented a formidable logistical challenge—an innovation was needed to provide an adequate supply of safe, drinkable water to survivors, and fast. From there, the idea for the DayOne Waterbag was born.
Designed to allow for easy transport, the Waterbag is an all-in-one, 10-liter backpack that allows users to collect water from a stream or river and then purify it quickly using a gravity filter and purifier packets within the backpack to make the water potable. The water is treated, protected and sealed within the transportable pack to avoid recontamination.
As Tricia approached graduation, she received an initial grant of $20,000 from NCIIA to further develop and refine the water technology performance of her product. After DayOne Response, Inc. officially launched in the spring of 2010, Tricia participated in an NCIIA Venture Lab that gave her the tools to transform the Waterbag from an innovation into a successful venture.
DayOne Response’s first contract was with the U.S. Navy and Thai Marines to deploy Waterbags in Thailand, testing and purifying water on a grassroots level. Through this testing, DayOne’s Waterbags ranked the highest on both purification levels and usability compared to other products. Since then, DayOne Response has deployed Waterbags to 10 countries and, most recently, to the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. Within just a couple of days of Haiyan, Tricia and her team shipped more than 300 Waterbags to disaster-plagued communities. The need for clean drinking water persists today, so DayOne continues to ship more product to the Philippines. The company is also working to pre-position Waterbags throughout the country, ensuring that local citizens are prepared in the event of future natural disasters.
Tricia and DayOne Response have been recognized for their pivotal role in providing a solution to challenges inherent in the aftermath of natural disasters. In April, Tricia participated in TheDaily Beast’s2014 Women in the World Summit as a “Mother of Invention!” [Read her story here.]
President Bill Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative have also recognized Tricia’s work—in 2008 President Clinton awarded her the prestigious Clinton Initiative Award and a grant to further develop the Waterbag. In 2011, Tricia received the Creativity Foundation’s Legacy Prize and attended the Unreasonable Institute in Boulder, Colorado—a competitive program for entrepreneurs solving social problems. She was also selected by Junior Chamber International in Osaka, Japan and received The Outstanding Young Person’s award for social innovation.
Tricia received her B.S. in Civil Engineering and M.S. in Civil/Environmental Engineering from California Polytechnic State University.
What’s next? Tricia and her team at DayOne Response continue to scale the DayOne Waterbag and are working toward producing more units and trimming costs while continuing to provide a high-quality product. They are also looking to create and provide a variety of products for military use in disaster relief, including earthquake preparedness kits.
In 2004, Brian Mullen was a recently enrolled UMass Amherst graduate student on the hunt for a new project. He had applied to master’s programs in mechanical engineering with the goal of designing prosthetic limbs for injured soldiers, but because UMass Amherst doesn’t study prosthetics, Brian began working with the University’s Assistive Technology Lab to find a new way of using his engineering skills to help people. He soon found his calling when his advisor put him in touch with Tina Champagne, an occupational therapist at nearby Cooley Dickinson Hospital.
Champagne was interested in exploring new methods of treating mental illness that would reduce the need to use involuntary restraints and seclusion on patients exhibiting volatile, dangerous behavior. She had found success in providing patients with weighted blankets or vests to help them feel calm, comfortable and self-regulated – a treatment known as “deep pressure.” The treatment had never been fully studied, although it was increasingly being used by parents of autistic children to help control their symptoms.
Based on his observations at the hospital, Brian made what he calls a “naïve decision” to accept Champagne’s challenge: focus his research on developing deep pressure assistive technologies to treat mental illness. He knew nothing about mental illness and had never heard of autism. Research gauging the effectiveness of deep pressure treatment was scarce, and no literature existed regarding how to design medical devices to treat anxiety disorders. Brian had to start from scratch.
After performing his own painstaking research, Brian developed a prototype inflatable vest that applies air pressure, rather than weight, to a patient. In 2006, the Boston Globe ran a story on the vest, and Brian was soon inundated with requests from parents of children with anxiety disorders eager to buy their own. Despite his initial desire to put the project on the back burner and focus on his degree, the stories Brian heard from parents convinced him to keep moving forward.
In October 2008, at the height of the financial crisis, Brian launched Therapeutic Systems LLC. He found a business partner in his friend Chris Leidel who had recently left a job at Texas Instruments to pursue an MBA at UMass Amherst. The two embarked on a campaign to raise the company’s profile and soon won a flurry of awards and grants, including a $16,500 E-Team grant from NCIIA.
The entrepreneurial training provided by NCIIA in conjunction with its grant proved critical to Therapeutic Systems’ early growth. “Back in 2008 and 2009, we didn’t have the accelerators and entrepreneurship programs that are now prevalent at universities,” says Brian. “The big resource for us was NCIIA.”
Brian credits NCIIA with giving him and Chris the necessary background to get their company off the ground and positioned to begin securing funding. One of the NCIIA E-Team reviewers even became a mentor for the project and eventually Therapeutic Systems’ lead investor.
After Brian graduated in 2009 with a PhD in mechanical engineering and Chris with an MBA, the two focused on evaluating their prototype for market and partnering with a local manufacturer to design their first vest ready for mass production. In May 2011, Therapeutic Systems launched its first product into the marketplace: the Vayu vest.
What’s next? Brian continues to pursue new investments and explore the best ways to market the Vayu vest. Their current focus is on the treatment of autism, but the device has shown promise in treating a variety of mental disorders, including anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia – even fear of flying. The company faces a decision to either continue pursuing the goal of becoming an insurance-reimbursable medical device, or market the Vayu vest as a consumer product. The challenge, says Brian, is in convincing the mental healthcare field to consider medical devices as a viable treatment method alongside drugs and behavioral therapy. While Brian works to scale up Therapeutic Systems, he takes heart in the stories he hears from parents and therapists who have seen the Vayu vest significantly change lives.