Hiring, Pitching, and Accelerating – Oh my!

Hiring, Pitching, and Accelerating – Oh my!

The past couple of months have been a whirlwind for us at Puffin. Things have really taken off after receiving the Department of Veterans Affairs grant. Puffin has now grown to a team of six, and we successfully competed into a finalist spot at MassChallenge (MC)! Here is a brief review of our successes!

After receiving the VA grant, Adriana and I excitedly began our employee search. Our first hire was Ali Shah, an upcoming senior at Worcester Polytech majoring in mechanical engineering (ME). Ali impressed us with his vast knowledge not just on ME, but also electrical engineering and data analysis. Ali had so many strong attributes he easily won us over. Ali is from Pakistan and will be with us well into the fall.

Our second hire was Marian Heman-Ackah, who is our first real employee. Marian just graduated from MIT and during her schooling has worked on similar assistive technology projects. Marian is not only incredibly smart, but also has a bubbly personality that lights up a room.  Her excitement and motivation are going to be a huge value to this project and many others. Marian is from what I call the “south”, but she informed me that northern Virginia does not qualify as such. I guess my definition of the south, anything below New Jersey, does not fly. 😊

While we were on our hiring initiative, we were also notified that we were invited to pitch for a spot in MassChallenge. Adriana and I had never pitched together before, and the stakes were high for our first one. This pitch determined if we would proceed into the MC accelerator program, something that we knew would help us reach our goals.  With the nerves that always prevail in times like these, Adriana and I presented our project to a panel of judges and when finished we left the room feeling confident. Why? Because as we left one of the judges told us that we inspired her. This one statement made us know that even if we did not get accepted into MC, we were still going the right direction. However, shortly after the pitch we were told that we were a finalist in the competition.

Our last hire, was another intern Andonios Kouninis. We first spoke with Andonios while he was in Greece working on a business plan for an olive company. Andonios is an engineer, but also has a business focus so he will be working with Adriana and I on all of our operational needs. Andonios is a New Hampshire native and a rising senior at Worcester Polytech.

Last week, we began MassChallenge and most of our team worked together to begin solidifying the specs and structure of the Puffin. We should scale very quickly now. Especially with Bruce, our software engineer, continuing to build the brain of the Puffin, a compliment with the new hires working on the other various aspects of the project. This is an exciting time for the Puffin and we will be blogging our journey every step of the way! Make sure to like our Facebook and LinkedIn, and follow us on twitter and Instagram!


Innovating For Disabled Veterans

Innovating For Disabled Veterans

Innovation and the military have always gone hand in hand. It should be of no surprise that when Adriana and I saw the S.A.H.A.T. (Specially Adaptive Housing Assistive Technology) program posted on grants.gov, we enthusiastically applied to participate. As an Assistive Technology (A.T.) company that is developing a device that enables the most severely disabled to access mobile phones and computers, we knew that our technology would be a perfect fit for disabled vets living in technologically advanced housing. The Puffin is the conduit between the person and consumer electronics.

In a time when modern warfare has increased the complexities of injuries, participating in a project funded by the Office of Veterans Affairs to develop technology for disabled vets excites our empathetic inner nerdiness. The Puffin’s main purpose is to meet the demands of users, and use data to advance ideations. Currently, the device is used orally by the disabled, so those with spinal cord injuries and loss of limbs can easily use the product. As war injuries change, so will our technology.

We at Puffin look forward to working with other innovators to further advance the technologies, treatments, and services provided to injured troops. No one wants our military troops to be injured in any act of war, but unfortunately this is out of our control. However, we can all make a difference for our current troops and veterans in our own ways, and Puffin will provide technologies with pride. The military is working on some incredible innovations that will not only change the lives of disabled vets, but also the disability community at large.

Innovating Assistive Technology

Last spring, I was sitting on a subway in Beijing watching the advert TV display a ten-minute video describing how to improve accessibility for those with disabilities. It became clear that the Chinese government found accessibility important for its expansion plans, and not only for those with disabilities but anyone that may have challenges. This is nothing new in the United States, which created the regulatory infrastructure with the Fair Housing Act of 1971 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, as the imminent leader in technology, China’s showcasing of accessibility for all is notable progress. If accessibility can become important to Chinese entrepreneurs, I see China as one of the leaders in inventing assistive technologies (AT). Nevertheless, innovating assistive technologies is a challenge for entrepreneurs globally. In this post I am going to discuss how modern innovation methods combined with outside-the-box thinking can not only provide better technologies but can also add value to everyone involved in the disability community.

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A Renewed Fight for Disability Rights

A Renewed Fight for Disability Rights

A Call to Action for the Disability Community. Picture of: Elizabeth Warren, Robyn Powell, Colleen Flanagan participating in the Women’s March 2017

In 1964 the United States passed the Civil Rights Act, protecting against discrimination of sex, race, and religion. Omitted from the act were protections for individuals with disabilities. In 1975 the first version of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was passed, guaranteeing a free appropriate public education for children with disabilities. However, it wasn’t until the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, only 27 years ago, that the protections guaranteed by the Civil Rights Act were solidified for the largest minority group in the United States, the disabled.

Yet, here we are in 2017 and people in the disability community are nervous. Why?

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