CMU Grad Turns Senior Project into Her Own Business-Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund - Carnegie Mellon University

Friday, January 3, 2014

CMU Grad Turns Senior Project into Her Own Business

Kelly Collier just wanted an A.

In her final year at Carnegie Mellon University, Ms. Collier, a dual major in material science and biomedical engineering, teamed with a group of peers on a class project to invent a product for the medical world.

She got that A -- and a lot more than she bargained for.

That class project changed her life and her career trajectory. After inventing a shirt that promotes better posture to reduce back pain, Ms. Collier spurned a doctoral program in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University to turn her invention into a business.

"We decided to take our A and push it further," she said.

Ms. Collier, 24, is now the CEO of ActivAided Orthotics, which operates out of a two-room office in the sprawling Riverside Center for Innovation complex on the North Shore. With four tables, a couple of laptop computers and a lounge area, the business has come a long way since the summer of 2011, when Ms. Collier started the company in her family's West Mifflin basement using her mom's sewing machine.

"I think if I really knew what I was getting myself into up front, I would have been too scared," Ms. Collier said. "But once I jumped in and started doing it, I just started figuring it out as I went along."

The company employs three people, including Ms. Collier, and did about $100,000 in sales in 2013, its first full year of production. Since first beta testing the shirts in March 2012, ActivAided Orthotics has sold 380 shirts nationwide, either through medical distributors in the Pittsburgh area or on the company's website, It is not yet profitable as it battles supply chain issues and personnel costs.

The company is still perfecting its product with the help of feedback of customers, but precise changes are challenging to execute when dealing with a long list of industrial designers, seamstresses and textile manufacturers, who often work at different paces.

"People are the most fickle," said Jenn Lambiase, 27, the company's marketing manager. "You kind of know what your product is going to do. But one day, your seamstress will throw her hands in the air and say, 'I'm done.'"

Though Ms. Collier invented the product with five classmates, she is the only remaining Carnegie Mellon alumni involved with the company...Read more»

By: Michael Sanserino