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The eye of the tigers
Ory Ball ’13 demonstrates his team’s NEATCap prototype to a group of “Tiger Sessions” panelists.
On the ABC show “Shark Tank,” aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their products to venture capitalists in hopes of obtaining funds to further their dreams.

Students in Lehigh’s Integrated Business and Engineering (IBE) honors program do much the same every December before a group of “tigers”—entrepreneurs, consultants and business owners associated with Ben Franklin Technology Partners. The “Tiger Sessions” culminate the yearlong IBE capstone senior design program course.

“As part of the capstone course, students work with outside clients—startup companies and entrepreneurs in the early stages of product development who are trying to grow their vision—and spend a year on a specific product,” says Pat Costa, professor of practice, who teaches the course.

At the most recent Tiger Sessions on Dec. 10, one IBE group pitched NEATCap, a “cap” that reduces the harmful noise to which infants are exposed in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). Over-stimulation caused by jet ventilators, diagnostic alarms and other noises in NICUs can inhibit the infants’ sleep habits and slow brain development.

Other IBE products presented included a feedback tool designed to address stroke errors in rowing; stainless steel ‘beans’ put into coffee to make it less hot; and an unmanned aerial vehicle prototype whose potential applications include bridge monitoring. The latter project is highlighted in the video embedded in the sidebar.

The world at their disposal

Students in the NEATCap group worked from scratch to develop an effective medical device. In their presentation, seniors Ben Sargent, Tommy Witmer, David Root, Meghan Dano, Seseg Tyryshkina, Xander Berry and Ory Ball gave detailed data on NEATCap’s design, clinical research, marketing strategies and sales projections.

The students highlighted what they see as NEATCap’s advantages over MiniMuffs, a similar product now on the market, which sells for less than one-tenth the price of NEATCap but must be thrown away after each use. NEATCap is designed to be used for the entire length of an infant’s stay in the NICU.

“[We] reached out to many relevant people in the industry, including nurses, neonatologists and NICU coordinators, to understand the field and ultimately build recommendations,” says Witmer, an IBE and finance double major. “In the capstone class, there is no assigned textbook. You have the world at your disposal in terms of resources, and it is up to you to decide which ones to pursue.”

A tough audience

The four tigers judging the NEATCap presentation were familiar with healthcare and medical devices. They praised the students for a professional presentation and innovative product, but also gave constructive feedback.

“Hospitals will likely throw away a lot of NEATCaps, so $150 apiece might be high,” said Cindy Miller, an industry professional who trains CEOs of small medical device and healthcare companies.

The IBE students said they learned more from the experience than they could by reading a book or taking a test.

“There was certainly a common theme among the tigers—assumptions need validation,” Sargent says. “The tigers wouldn’t settle for our conservative estimates. This attention to gathering hard evidence for our assumptions was the most important advice they gave.”

“The capstone class teaches students to take the initiative and be go-getters,” Witmer says. “When we graduate, our interactions with co-workers will be key facets to our success, and our exposure to the real world will improve our effectiveness in public speaking and simple one-on-one dialogues with industry professionals.”