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Igniting Innovation

Bracing For Impact

The transition from first-year college student to aspiring entrepreneur was a bit surprising but almost seamless for Spencer Janning, a mechanical engineering major.

It started with a group project for his engineering innovation class. The students were tasked with creating a leg brace for a local pediatric patient with cerebral palsy. Janning researched similar devices and spoke with the patient about why she wasn’t wearing her current brace, which was designed to prevent scissoring of the legs while sleeping.

“I was trying to figure out how it could have more motion and be more comfortable and still prevent twisting,” Janning said.

Janning’s design was selected by his group for development for the class assignment, but the project didn’t end when the semester did. Janning was just getting started. By the end of the semester, he had already applied for a provisional patent application for the Freedom Brace. A year later — in the spring of 2017 — he applied for a formal patent. While his initial application was rejected, a revised application was submitted and he was granted a patent on January 23, 2018. His class assignment had evolved into a marketable product but, now what?

That’s where Leonardo Enterprises came in. Leonardo Enterprises is a new business incubator and investment program at the School of Engineering for all University of Dayton students, faculty and staff who want to start their own technology-based business. Leonardo Fellows have access to lab space, co-working office space, use of the School of Engineering Makerspace, engineering and legal support, as well as one-on-one business mentoring.

“Spencer saw something great in what he was doing and kept going with it,” said Emily Fehrman Cory, director of Leonardo Enterprises. “Through Leonardo Enterprises, we hope to encourage more students like Spencer. Programs like this are important because not everyone has access to the resources they need to be successful.”

Leonardo Enterprises — which is currently funded by alumni donations — is assisting Janning with entering the market by applying for necessary FDA approvals and scaling up his manufacturing. Over time, Leonardo Enterprises will become self-sustaining with a 5-percent return on investment for the projects it funds.

“Amazing things are going to come out of this research,” Fehrman Cory said. “They already are.”

Leonardo Enterprises Projects

  • Freedom Brace: A medical leg brace designed for pediatric patients with cerebral palsy or a neuromuscular condition.
  • Sink 2.0: A compact, automated sink and hand dryer developed by recent graduate Dallas DeBruin.
  • Justice Energy: A green energy utility for the common good that spun out of a class at the GEMnasium.