By Ally Tobler
Five finalists pitched their startup ideas in the annual Pitch Dingman Final Competition March 6. But only one secured $15,000 as seed money for their business idea, Symbiont Health.
The idea behind Symbiont Health, founded by UMD students Erich Meissner, Maria Chen and Kyle Liu, is to provide non-wearable automated fall detection devices for senior citizens who are prone to unconscious falls.
For Meissner, a senior electrical engineering major and brand-new CEO, the inspiration behind the business idea is personal.
“Please just take a moment to appreciate this photo of my beautiful grandmother,” he told the audience. “Unfortunately, just over a year ago, she had a fall. She broke her hip, and during her recovery, I would talk to her nurses to learn about the problem of elderly falls.”
The National Council on Aging reports that nearly three million injuries are treated in emergency departments each year.
“My grandmother had [Life Alert], but it didn’t even help in the situation,” Meisnner said.
An idea was born soon after, he said, and he would go on to come up with an idea for a device for senior citizens to detects falls from syncope — a sudden loss of consciousness due to lack of blood flow to the brain.
The device that Meissner, Chen and Liu devised does not require seniors to wear any sensors or pendants on their body.
“You place one of our devices in a room and send out a wireless signal that would bounce off walls, humans and objects,” Liu said. “We’re licensing technology from the University of Maryland that allows us to create a three-dimensional map of the room and track movements. It kind of works like how a bat would navigate a dark cave using echolocation, But instead of sound, we’re using electromagnetic waves.”
The Pitch Dingman Competition allocates more than $30,000 for University of Maryland students to launch their startups.
BEEQBOX, a vegan and cruelty-free cosmetic company with a feminist twist, clinched the second-place prize and won $7,500. A $35,000 prize for third place was awarded to a cybersecurity startup, Dark Sonar Technologies, that prevents synthetic identity fraud online. Flee, an event and entertainment social media app, received $1,000 for being an audience favorite.
In between the Semifinals in November, and the final competition, the five finalists attended a day-long boot camp. They met with personal mentors, pitched ideas to the Dingman Center team and other entrepreneurs, and prepared presentations to the judges, comprised of CEOs, presidents and founders of various companies such as SECU, Tracker Group and Venable LLP.
“We will allocate most of the winnings to pass and source the hardware so that we can implement it into the nursing homes,” Chen said. “We’ll also use a lot of it for legal use so that we can protect our product and our company overall.”