Globally, average annual temperatures have been rising for decades — according to the EPA, 15 of the 16 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000. What’s more, as heat-trapping greenhouse gases increase in the atmosphere, the agency says that “scientists expect heat waves to become more common, more severe, and longer-lasting.”
Though many of us may just feel dismay at the sweaty summer aheads, in developing countries especially, heat can pose a major danger. Extreme heat can cause dehydration, illness, and death.
A group of Emory undergrads is tackling the extreme heat issue with a wearable device that uses thermal technology to cool the body. A Vimband, currently in prototype, is an affordable, lightweight, rechargeable band that can be worn on different parts of the body to directly cool it.
Kieren Helmn, a junior business major, and freshman Ryan James and Anya Rosen-Gooding are competing for the $1 million Hult Prize, a global competition for socially-conscious, for-profit startups emerging from universities. They have already placed in both campus and regional competitions, and will go on to the third round of competition that will take place in London this summer.
What’s your pitch?
Vimband is a startup aimed at making thermal discomfort a thing of the past by utilizing direct body cooling as a source of relief. A Vimband is a lightweight, rechargeable, and affordable device that can be worn on different areas of the body to give relief in hot environments. By directly cooling the body, individuals have control over their thermal preferences and no longer have to endure long-lasting periods of discomfort.
But the problem is much bigger than just feeling a little too hot some days. Over 4.3 billion people live in extreme temperatures throughout the year, and the majority of these individuals have little to no access to an effective and long-lasting form of relief. Our goal is to provide affordable and effective thermal cooling technologies to those living and working in extreme temperatures, reducing the threat heat poses to their lives.
How did you come up with the initial idea for Vimband?
The challenge for the Hult Prize this year was to harness the power of energy to change the lives of ten million people by 2025. We thought, what is a pressing issue right now that the world faces and how can we solve it? We decided to tackle the issue of extreme heat around the world and how people in certain places have little or no access to affective cooling methods.
How does the product work?
The device can be worn as a wristband, headband, or neckband. It gives people in the U.S. the option to wear it around as a wristband, but also individuals in, for example, Nicaragua or India where they are working a lot with their hands to wear it around their head.
There is actually a pulse point located on the wrist where a lot of blood is flowing closer to the skin, so by cooling this area for three to four minutes, blood circulating around the body allows you to cool your body down. You can start to feel the effect of cooling right away, but we are still testing the device to see if/how we can lower core body temperature.
Who are you working with on this project?
We’re actually working with a lot of different people. One postdoctoral fellow, Josh Mendez, two individuals that are residents in social enterprise at Emory’s Goizueta Business School, judges from the Hult Prize that are in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Michael Cohn, a 2005 alumni of Goizueta’s MBA program who is now working with Techstars, and agroup of nurses from the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. Anyone we meet we network with in order to move this project forward, so we definitely have a lot of advisors.
How are you funding the startup?
We’ve been looking to secure some funding from the Emory Scholars Program and from the business school. A few weeks ago, we won the Siperstein Challenge at Emory and were granted $2,000. We also won the Entrepreneurial Summit at Emory and were awarded $5,000 and a space in the Atlanta Tech Village. Through grants, we’ve been able to raise about $14,000-15,000 so far.
Is there anything else similar to this on the market?
Currently, there’s nothing on the market that is similar, but there are similar products that are preparing to enter the market. How we make ourselves distinct from other companies is through a few key ways. First, we’re priced under $100 so we are affordable for individuals in the U.S. — we price even lower to have a social impact in countries like Nicaragua or India, something none of these other companies are doing. Second, our device can be worn around different areas of the body.
How do you believe this product will impact the future?
We hope that in the future people will turn more towards direct body cooling because air conditioning right now isn’t environmentally-friendly. It cools the air around you rather than directly cooling the body; actually in cities where there is a lot of air conditioning, studies have shown that excessive usage heats up the city. Hopefully our product will increase productivity and decrease the number of heat-related illnesses. That is the main goal in the end that we hope to achieve.
What are your next steps for this year?
We are planning to work full time over the summer on this project. For two months at the beginning of the summer we’ll be working in the Atlanta Tech Village, probably with an individual who can help us make an actual design for manufacturing our product. Then hopefully we’ll be going to this accelerator in London to really push us forward to that final step and begin getting our product on the market.
Rachel Kramer is a student at Emory University. She is double majoring in business at the Goizueta Business School and Middle Eastern Studies in the liberal college. This summer she will be working at an accelerator firm in New York City.