Bethlehem Press

Sunday, September 23, 2018

University students participate at Red Bull Launch Institute

Tuesday, May 8, 2018 by Katya Hrichak Special to the Bethlehem Press in School

Three Lehigh University students were selected to participate in the Red Bull Launch Institute at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas in early March. The Institute, according to Red Bull’s website, “gives wings to collegiate entrepreneurs and their ideas” by providing access to mentors and fellow entrepreneurs.

Lehigh senior Kira Gobes attended the event with a focus on her device, Loop. She describes Loop as a smart bracelet designed to teach middle-school-aged girls programming by connecting the bracelet to a phone app. Through the app, users can program their bracelets to perform different actions, such as light up when meeting a friend, vibrate to signal the start of class or light up different colors to correspond with social media likes.

For Gobes, the project is personal. Her research showed that middle school is typically the age when girls lose interest in STEM careers and, as a female in the industry herself, she wanted to find a solution.

“The whole social focus behind this is that I’m very interested in getting more girls interested in engineering to help fill the gender gap in technology and STEM fields,” she said. “I’m a female engineer and I’ve experienced the gender gap myself. It’s so important to talk to middle schoolers and show them from a young age that engineering doesn’t have to be male-oriented or intimidating.”

Prior to the Launch Institute, Gobes spent time speaking with her target market and receiving feedback, but looked forward to hearing professional advice during her participation in the event to learn how to take her product further. Through both the Launch Institute and Lehigh, Gobes found the support she needed to continue working on her device.

“The resources at Lehigh University, in particular the Baker Institute, have been so instrumental in building up both my confidence and my resources and my network, I absolutely could not have done any of this without some of the faculty there, they’re just really incredible and really invaluable resources,” Gobes said.

Senior Lena McDonnell and sophomore Michael Wu comprised the other team chosen to participate with their device, Soterra. Started as a project for another competition, Soterra is a device intended to help women at risk of gender violence and assault stay connected in times of need without needing access to a cell phone or the internet.

Wu said, “We researched and count that one in three women are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime and so that gives itself a market, and then on top of that, 80 to 95 percent of those women know their attacker, so a lot of deterrents wouldn’t work, such as pepper spray or your phone, because the first thing that they’re going to take away from you is going to be your phone,” he said. “If we made a device that’s small, inconspicuous and doesn’t require connectivity, this would help people who need it the most.”

Although McDonnell and Wu have recognized the impact their product could have on various markets, their initial target market included women in developing countries and is expanding to potentially include college and university campuses as well.

Both McDonnell and Wu expressed their gratitude toward Red Bull and the event, stating that the Launch Institute helped not only get their product name out there, but gave them beneficial feedback and industry contacts as well.

“I think the biggest thing that I hope to get across is just how grateful we are to Red Bull for this whole event,” McDonnell said. “It was a really fantastic experience, it was really nice to be taken seriously and celebrated for what we’re doing [and] it was really wonderful to be with these other students who are doing really impressive things.”