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Alumni and Friends Making an Impact

An Enterprise for Good

When first-year Flyer Grace Silverberg was beginning her senior year at Lakota East High School, she and three classmates were looking for a capstone project for an engineering class. “We knew we wanted to help someone or solve a problem,” she said.

After speaking with the school’s special education teacher, they found a problem worth solving. “Her students with physical limitations were having trouble picking up the pieces when they played board games,” she said.

All year, Silverberg and her classmates worked to create Ocean Adventures, a piece-less, light-display board game similar to Candy Land. Players press a button to determine the number of spaces to move forward, and then another button to make the move. Their controller is connected to the LED lights on the board, so pressing the button moves their piece, or light, forward. 

When they presented the game to the special needs students, Silverberg realized the impact of their idea. “It felt really good to give them the opportunity to do something they hadn’t been able to do.”

They went on to create a more refined prototype, acquire a provisional patent and advance to nationals in a board game design competition. Now that Silverberg is at the University of Dayton pursuing a mechanical engineering degree, she’s ready to take the idea even further.

Through Leonardo Enterprises, a business incubator and investment program based in the School of Engineering, Silverberg is creating a company around the project: Smiley Goat Adaptive Board Games.

Campus Collaborators

As a part of the program, Silverberg is receiving assistance from faculty and students across campus. “She has a team of four seniors in electrical engineering technology and mechanical engineering technology who are, as their capstone project, changing her prototype to make it more manufacturable — thinner, faster,” said Director of Leonardo Enterprises Emily Fehrman Cory, Ph.D.

In addition, Silverberg is working with engineering and business students in a Fundamentals of New Technology Ventures class. “They’re helping me with customer discovery and making the product more marketable,” said Silverberg. “For example, some of the consumers we hope to serve can’t move their arms. So, we’re exploring having a headset, or something along those lines.”

This class is also helping Silverberg look into partnerships with companies like Hasbro or Mattel, in hopes of selling the technology or licensing their game titles. “People with disabilities want to feel as integrated into society as possible. So, they might want to be like their peers and play real Candy Land,” said Fehrman Cory. The students are also examining partnerships with local game developers who create games for adults and children, with an eye on constructing more complex board games for other age ranges.

The provisional patent for the project will expire in July, so she is also receiving assistance from School of Law students and faculty to obtain a full patent.

Beyond these campus collaborations, Fehrman Cory and other advisers have helped Silverberg work toward gaining funding in other arenas, whether it be applying for grants or participating in Flyer Pitch, a Shark-Tank-like contest housed in the School of Business Administration’s Crotty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. Silverberg is a finalist in this year’s contest and in April will compete for a $25,000 prize to further Smiley Goat.

Donor Support

The success of Smiley Goat stands on this campus support system — and the generosity of our donors:  More than $20,000 of One Day, One Dayton donations to the School of Engineering Dean’s Fund for Excellence have gone to Leonardo Enterprises.

Thanks to this support, Leonardo Enterprises is gaining steam. Only in its second year, the program has been adding three or four projects each semester and currently supports 11 projects — and, like Smiley Goat, they all reflect the University’s Catholic, Marianist mission. “Every project that’s being funded is out there to help humanity in some way,” said Fehrman Cory.

Leonardo Enterprises is also designed to become more and more self-sustaining; when businesses turn a profit, the program receives 5% of it. “A few businesses have graduated out of the program and are seeing some success, so we’re on the cusp of having a return,” said Fehrman Cory.

Silverberg counts herself lucky to have such support for her budding business — and lucky to have found a home at UD. “The experience I’ve had has really solidified my choice to come here. It’s been incredible.”

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