Southern Methodist University, Cox School of Business
Industry: Biomedical Devices
Founding Student Name(s): Raleigh Dewan
Brief Description of Solution: The SteadiSpoon™ is an affordable, 3D-printed assistive eating device that empowers over 100MM people with Parkinson’s and Essential Tremors to regain agency, autonomy, and dignity in their lives. Currently, the SteadiSpoon™ offers 95% of the efficacy of the market-leading motorized device for less than half the price with no charging necessary. It is completely dishwasher safe, and comes with specially designed utensil heads for an easy and effective eating experience. The device empowers individuals to feed themselves, saves time for caregivers, and enables consumers to recapture the immense benefits that come from being able to comfortably feed themselves and eat with friends and loved ones. The almost $100 billion market for neurological disease treatments remains heavily dominated by expensive motorized devices, drugs with significant side effects, and risky brain surgeries. All of these perfectly position SteadiSpoon™ to disrupt the market with a differentiated value proposition of affordable and scalable technology to capture the growing base of consumers with neurological diseases.
What led you to launch this venture? I had a very interesting and exciting childhood growing up on my oldest brother’s film sets–lots of fun for a little boy with the actors, production crews, and all of the hubbub! On action scene days (by far my favorite days), the crew would place massive cameras into gimbal joists attached to cranes and swing them around the set to capture all the dynamics. No matter how much the camera moved, the shot was always steady due to the Steadicam technology–this fascinated me. Later on, my grandmother developed Parkinson’s disease and began to experience debilitating hand tremors so severe she could no longer feed herself. I was angry and couldn’t understand how we could stabilize a camera on a Hollywood film set, but not my 90-pound grandmother’s trembling hand. So, inspired by the Steadicam technology I saw on my brother’s film sets, I set out to create a solution for my grandmother–one that would allow her to comfortably feed herself and regain the sense of autonomy and dignity the disease had stolen from her and, less directly, from our family.
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? Recently, in a set of human trials, our device reached 95% of the efficacy of the market-leading motorized solution while being entirely mechanical (no motors, sensors, chips, or batteries) and less than half the price. The human trials took place in a motion capture lab that possesses laser equipment that can translate motion into quantitative data. The experiment consisted of tremor patients performing a series of typical eating movements with a regular utensil and then with our device to measure their baseline tremor and how well our device stabilized their tremor. Seeing trial participants’ faces light up when they could feed themselves without spilling while using our device has certainly been the most rewarding moment thus far. It is even better than compared to other highlights like winning various global pitch competitions, securing NIH & NAE research grants, acceptance into the VentureWell MedTech accelerator, and forging partnerships with the Parkinson’s Foundations for several states.
How has your business-related major helped you further this startup venture? The necessity of linking classroom learning and experiential learning for fast, disruptive innovation (and ventures) remains one of my strongest-held educational beliefs. Working on SteadiSpoon™ has taught me more than any class alone ever could from IP processes and managing remote engineering teams to understanding go-to-market strategy and financial forecasting. However, by running this active venture while attending my business classes, I’ve leveraged my learning and the value I am able to take from my professors. When I had actual taxes to file for my business, cost accounting classes became far more interesting and valuable. Studying operations management and capacity planning lit my soul on fire as I begin applying it to my production and scaling plans. In all my classes, I have been able to directly apply the course content to my business—driving higher personal engagement with the class, a better understanding of material, deeper questions, and the perfect balance of academic and experiential learning. Beyond just the skills and concepts my business classes have instilled in me, my professors have acted as invaluable advisors for my company, guiding me through risk management, marketing challenges, strategic planning, and more.
Which business class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? My freshman year, I took an Introduction to Entrepreneurship class focused on “Identifying Entrepreneurial Opportunities.” Before this class, I had no previous knowledge of business plans, seed funding, the business model canvas, MVP, etc. But within a semester, Professor Simon Mak made me feel as though I had been an entrepreneur all my life. Beyond just learning the lingo and business tools necessary to make my ideas reality, Professor Mak instilled in me an entrepreneurial spirit and perspective–developing my builder mindset to find problems, understand consumer pain points, and devise creative solutions. While I learned a great amount, Professor Mak taught me the most important lesson for every entrepreneur: you must constantly talk to your customers and devote yourself to understanding their pain points, care about their surface level and deep problems, and seek brutal honesty from them to evaluate and improve your solution. These lessons have been extremely valuable in my journey of building my company.
What business professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Professor Simon Mak has been a supporter of SteadiSpoon since Day One, which happened to be in his classroom. In fact, I pitched SteadiSpoon for a class assignment and Professor Mak encouraged me to pursue it. Nearly four years later we’ve raised nearly $100K from research grants and pitch competitions, developed a device that rivals the efficacy of the market-leading solution for less than half the price, and received national news coverage. From helping me get into and win pitch competitions to introducing me to different mentors and partners, Professor Mak has been my “start-up guardian angel,” helping me traverse the difficult and treacherous terrain I’ve had to cross to take SteadiSpoon™ from an idea to a reality with the potential to impact millions of people.
What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? My mother’s father, the husband of my maternal grandmother who is the inspiration behind SteadiSpoon™, was an incredible entrepreneur who transformed his small town of Hazen, Arkansas, and did well by doing well. From owning grocery stores and department shops to construction depots and oil interests, my grandfather, Conley House, was not just a brilliant businessman but a good man. Up until his death, he remained a pillar in his community–from generously extending lines of credit to being a deacon for his church and a leading member of the Toastmaster’s Club. Conley House was a man who knew that business could be an agent for social change and community building. He never went to college–he always said he graduated from the “school of hard knocks”–and yet he was the wisest man I’ve ever known. He taught me that there are no right decisions, just decisions we make right. He taught me how to look at the world and trade expectations for appreciation. Most of all, he taught me not just to see things as they are, but for what they could be! Conley House was a brilliant inventor, businessman, storyteller, husband, community leader, and more; but most of all he was the best grandfather I could ever hope for and my continual inspiration to look whimsically at the world and imagine what could be.
What is your long-term goal with your startup? SteadiSpoon™ is our first product but will soon be joined by a broader product family with different utensils (forks, knives, etc.), along with a pen attachment so that the hundreds of millions of people in the world who suffer from debilitating hand tremors can take life back into their hands. With this expansion, we will become SteadiLife™. Our mission with SteadiLife™ remains to empower millions of people across the world to regain agency, autonomy, and dignity in their lives. With this mission, our long-term goal is to be acquired by a large medical manufacturer, such as Medtronic, that has all the resources, connections, and expertise to scale SteadiLife™ into a truly global company that can impact hundreds of millions of people.
DON’T MISS: THE MOST DISRUPTIVE BUSINESS SCHOOL STARTUPS OF 2022
Comments or questions about this article? Email us.