For Gary Walters, the entrepreneurial brainstorm came while mowing his lawn on a hot San Antonio day.
An Iraq war veteran, Walters lost his right leg below the knee in a bomb blast eight years ago, and he has suffered from excessive heat and sweating where his prosthesis is joined to his leg, a common problem for amputees. “It gets close to 100 degrees in there,” he says. “It’s just like having your hand under water all day. Your skin starts to break down, you get friction blisters, heat rash, open sores.”
Walters says that the heat builds up even when he’s sitting still indoors. He would constantly ask his doctors and prosthetic manufacturers: “Why hasn’t anyone come up with a fix for this?”
This past winter, his bubbling frustration dovetailed along with an assignment in his engineering design course at the University of Texas at San Antonio. The result is what he calls the Aquilonix Prosthetic Cooling System, a ceramic plate that uses battery-powered thermoelectric components to pull the heat from inside the socket of the prosthesis and eject it outside the limb. The device is embedded into the socket and has an on/off switch.
In January, Walters, along with three other engineering students and four business students, formed a company, Leto Solutions. And last month they won first place in the $100,000 Student Technology Venture Competition sponsored by the university’s Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship. The prize was a combination of cash and in-kind services such as legal services and free office space.
“We are excited that our first prototype worked exactly as expected,” says Becky Arianas, a longtime pharmaceutical and medical device consultant in San Antonio who served as the students’ industry mentor.
She’s now signed on as CEO and is leading the company’s efforts to transform a university project into a commercial product, including replacing its provisional patent with a general one, securing FDA approval, and fundraising.
“We have been meeting with potential investors, and we have a couple who are very interested,” she says. They are speaking to angel investors to raise an initial round of $750,000, she says. The money will go toward making some refinements to the device and building additional units for more testing. At the same time, the company will be pursuing grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Veterans Administration…
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