The room is so crowded that Kelly Collier’s business display keeps getting pushed aside. Alumni and investors have traveled to Carnegie Mellon to check out the latest entrepreneurial ideas on campus. It’s both friendly and chaotic as they circulate, asking questions of the start-up founders. Collier wants that attention. Accompanied by her lone display—a mannequin wearing the ReoveryAid posture training shirt—she pushes it back into the crowd. “I had to be a good little entrepreneur and be the center of attention,” she laughs.
Collier (E’11) is presenting at LaunchCMU, a day for showcasing research and entrepreneurship from CMU’s community. LaunchCMU, planned by the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), was established to help potential startups by offering classes, workshops, events, mentorship, and grants to students and faculty. At this year’s inaugural Pittsburgh event (following one last year in Silicon Valley), Collier is presenting at both components—the bustling Poster/Demo session, which she likens to “speed dating,” as well as the Showcase, where business owners give Ted-Talk-style presentations.
Three years ago, she never would have imagined being the CEO of her own company. At the time, she was pursuing undergrad degrees at CMU in materials science and biomedical engineering.
Deciding to tack on a business minor, she grabbed the only appropriate course that fit in her schedule—Intro to Entrepreneurship. She wasn’t even sure what entrepreneurship entailed: “I was literally Wikipedia-ing it on my way to class.” Dave Mawhinney, one of the co-founders of CIE, handed the class a worksheet: “Are You Cut Out to Be an Entrepreneur?” Collier completed it and was surprised she fit the mold; she didn’t mind taking risks, and she loved creative problem solving.
As the audience settles in their chairs to watch LaunchCMU’s Showcase event, President Subra Suresh gives a speech noting the 36 startups launched last year at CMU. Pennsylvania Congressman Mike Doyle Skypes in from Washington, D.C., congratulating the college’s research centers for helping the local economy. Faculty take the stage, sharing their research from driverless cars to advancements in neuroimaging. Next come the entrepreneurial speakers. Collier shares with the crowd her story: As a senior in 2011, she sat around a table with her classmates, a randomly assigned team charged with developing a medical product. They realized they had something in common—back pain. For Collier, it was from her active lifestyle as a soccer player, swimmer, and triathlete.
They partnered with Gary Chimes, a physician with a subspecialty in spine rehabilitation, who had the idea for an orthotic shirt that could help his rehabilitation patients. The student team built a prototype, and Chimes was thrilled with the outcome, saying, “I’m going to patent this. Who’s in?” Collier took the leap, and two and a half years later, she is CEO of ActivAided Orthotics, which has a RecoveryAid on the market, “helping people with their back pain.”
The showcase ends, and everyone gathers for a networking event, where Collier is delighted to learn that several attendees are interested business partners and investors.