As president and cofounder of Neurotect, veteran management consultant Linda Chase-Jenkins ’93 is leading a multidisciplinary team of engineers to develop a wearable material that transforms upon impact into a rigid brace, preventing devastating injuries to the spine, head, and neck.
A Critical Need
My husband is a neurosurgeon who sees a lot of patients — mainly teenagers and young adults in their 20s and 30s — who have been paralyzed by injuries suffered while playing sports like skiing, hockey, or football. These are moments that change peoples’ lives forever. And the cost to society is huge because these are often young and healthy individuals who need to be taken care of for the rest of their lives. My husband was always saying, “I wish they had been wearing a neck collar before the accident.” We worked backwards, asking, “What would a wearable device have to be like to get normal people to wear it?”
Poised to Transform the Market
There’s a big need in the sports safety market for something that is comfortable, doesn’t inhibit performance or look silly — and that protects from injury. Our first device will be a soft fabric that freezes into a rigid brace immediately upon impact. It can be deactivated once you no longer need it. We’re also looking into how our material can attach to helmets to prevent concussions. We’ve already had discussions with sportswear companies and are also considering other types of distribution.
Faster Than an Airbag
We’re working with a really talented team of engineers and researchers to incorporate the latest technology into our next-generation prototype. We’re developing thin, small electromagnetic plates that lock together into a rigid brace just at impact, before the spine begins to deform or break. It’s very exciting because this sort of electromagnetic design with sensing technologies — our material responds like an airbag but much faster—has never been done before.
Consulting’s Biggest Lesson
The biggest thing you learn in consulting is how to solve a problem with a process and an approach; you may not know anything about it to begin with, but you have the skills to find the solution, which often involves knowing what questions to ask and talking to a lot of people. Another takeaway from consulting is to stay focused on the goal at hand. For now that’s creating a prototype we can share with potential investors and partners.
Sunday Night Conference Calls
A benefit of entrepreneurship is that I have more autonomy and less travel than in my corporate career, when in one week I could be in London, Paris, and Cape Town. Within reason, I set the hours and the project timelines. For example, we meet with one of our engineering teams on Sunday nights (after the kids go to bed). But the biggest benefit will be creating something tangible that will save or change peoples’ lives.
—as told to Simone Silverbush; Photo by Don Hamerman