When Scott Mitchell began his junior year away at Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College last fall, one of his first assignments was to design and implement a low-cost solution to a social problem. Mitchell is a five-year, dual-degree student at Bowdoin and Dartmouth, pursuing both a liberal arts and an engineering degree.
Mitchell knew from his experience as a volunteer with Medical Ministry International, a global charity that provides free healthcare, that clinics in developing countries often struggle to obtain equipment common in the United States. From age 15, Mitchell has regularly volunteered in Central and South America with the charity. Last summer he interned in Arequipa, Peru, working as an interpreter and an assistant to medical staff.
A physical therapist in Arequipa told Mitchell that young cerebral palsy patients who cannot stand or walk should be using standing frames. The frames, which prop users upright, help children develop stronger bones and muscles, and they improve circulatory and respiratory systems. Standers also enable children to engage in more family activities and be more social. The trouble is that standers are prohibitively expensive, with price tags in the thousands of dollars, and the clinic could not afford them.
To address the clinic’s need, Mitchell worked with a team of three other engineering students to design a stander that not only worked, but was also adjustable, comfortable and most importantly, inexpensive. Using wood and hardware commonly found in stores around the world, the team invented and built a stander in seven weeks that cost just $50 to make. The stander can accommodate children up to 44 inches, approximately the height of a seven year old.
Founding a Nonprofit
This summer, Mitchell is working with a different team of engineering students (the original designers are pursuing other projects, he said) to launch a 501(c)3 that can manufacture and distribute the standers to clinics — for free — around the world. Stand With Me is now a registered nonprofit in Maine, where Mitchell grew up, and Mitchell holds a provisional patent that protects his intellectual property while he files for a permanent patent.
Mitchell received a Thomas Andrew McKinley ’06 Entrepreneur Grant Fund for up to $5,000 from Bowdoin’s Funded Internship Program to help him start Stand With Me. He is also working a day job at Adimab, an antibody engineering company in Lebanon, N.H.
Demand for the product has already begun. “We’re taking orders from nonprofit organizations that are requesting the standers,” Mitchell said. He is trying to raise $10,000 to grow Stand With Me and to produce the first 100 to 300 standers, and is seeking lumber yards willing to donate wood to bring the manufacturing cost down to $20 per stander. The nonprofit is also hoping to partner with corporate sponsors that could help streamline production and distribution.
At the moment, Mitchell is using Dartmouth’s computerized machine shop to mill out wood parts. Mitchell and his partners then put together the more complicated sections of the device, leaving it mostly unfinished. One the stander’s distinguishing features is that it is based on the IKEA furniture system, where products come in preassembled pieces to be put together by customers. “This allows for low assembly cost and small shipping fees,” Mitchell explained.
Although Mitchell, who is a biochemistry major at Bowdoin, plans to go to medical school to become a surgeon, he holds ambitious plans for Stand With Me. The organization’s mission statement is purposefully broad: To provide “children and adults in need around the world with affordable medical devices.” Mitchell would like Stand With Me to one day make a whole line of rehabilitation products, including standers for older children and adults, walkers, and a device that allows handicapped children to ride horses.
“One of the things I’m fed up with is people getting taken advantage of [by the medical system], and things costing way more than they need to,” Mitchell said. “What I imagine with this is taking technology that already exists and applying it in the most useful and efficient way to people who can’t afford it.”
To learn more about what students are doing at Bowdoin and all over the world this summer, check out this interactive map by Nina Underman ’15.