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What started as a final project for a class in Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship turned into a lesson of perseverance for mechanical engineering alums Rebecca Christensen ’14 and Leila Jawhar ’14.
The course required that they design a product and enter it in the Sun Devil Igniter Challenge. This competition offers the winning team mentorship, legal advice, and $50,000 in seed money from capital investors Carr Bettis, Les Brun, Thomas Cowan, and ASU alum Allan Kaplan ’93, who share a passion for entrepreneurism that is matched by their stellar accomplishments in business and investment.
Christensen and Jawhar—with classmates J. J. McNeill ’14, Chieh-An Chen ’14, and Gilwon Kim ’14—began working on a step-in design for snowboard bindings with a heel-locking system that fastens from a standing position. That enables snowboarders to avoid bending over to fasten bindings, which slows traffic at the top of a lift—a common complaint of snowboarders.
“I’m a snowboarder,” says Christensen, “and the idea just kind of came to me.” They called their product Helos, for Heel-Locking System.
To their surprise, their team was one of five finalists out of seventy entries.
“I still can’t believe it,” Jawhar says. “I thought this was just going to be our senior design project.” When the team pitched its idea before the Igniter board and lost, Christensen knew they couldn’t quit. “It was obvious at that point that we had a great idea.”
They continued to develop Helos.
And when the winning team ended up dissolving, the Igniter board declared Helos the new winner. Board members have since offered funding, mentorship, and legal advice. Under their guidance, the Helos prototype is in the virtual-testing phase.
“Everything they offer through the Igniter Challenge is about learning,” says Christensen. “It’s never about win or lose. It taught me to not take any idea for granted.”