Two Lehigh students were awarded $10,000 for their smart bracelet that introduces its user to basic programming.
Kira Gobes, ’18, and Kelsie Strobel, ’18, were awarded the money through Davis Projects for Peace, a national initiative inspired by the late internationalist and philanthropist Kathryn W. Davis. The pair’s invention, titled “Kuungana,” is a high-tech bracelet that teaches beginner programming by allowing its user to customize its functions through entering code.
“You could code it to do things like light up or vibrate, sense where you are and sense where your friends are,” Gobes said.
Gobes and Strobel said they came up with the idea after taking a class in international social entrepreneurship. They learned how to create an effective start-up in a developing country and traveled on a Lehigh-sponsored trip to Kenya for part of the class.
Strobel said in Kenya, gender stereotypes were noticeable and the women had far fewer educational opportunities. She said all of the young women she met in Kenya who were interested in engineering had few resources to pursue an education locally.
“This is a serious issue,” Gobes said. “We have always been cognizant of this growing up, and now being one of the few female engineers in some of our classes we wanted to create a girl’s education tool.”
Gobes and Strobel said their goal for the smart bracelet is to get middle school-aged girls interested in coding and engineering to help close the gender gap in the engineering world.
“The really cool thing about the Kenya class is that it forced you to think outside your comfort zone,” Gobes said. “Because you’re working on a product that’s not your own, you have to be able to design things in a way that makes sense without being too forceful, especially in education.”
To use the smart bracelet, users would purchase and download an app that would connect the bracelet to their phone via bluetooth. From there, they would be able to directly code their smart bracelet to perform functions such as lighting up or vibrating.
The app would also connect users to a community networking platform of other female engineers.
“This is something we have seen in the U.S. be very successful” Gobes said. “Engineering is such an abstract thing when you’re a young girl, so we really want to combat this issue in one product.”
Gobes and Strobel said they entered the EUREKA! Ventures Competition last fall through the Lehigh Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship program. Chris Kauzmann, innovation programs manager at the Baker Institute, wrote in an email that projects for the EUREKA! competition are selected through a series of judging rounds.
“There are two written rounds that are evaluated,” Kauzmann wrote. “Competitors are selected for a final round in which they pitch their ideas to an audience of alumni entrepreneurs, faculty and staff. Winners are then selected based on the strength of their team, opportunity and externally validated ideas.”
Gobes and Strobel were awarded first place in both the EUREKA! Social Ventures Competition and the EUREKA! Series Thalheimer Grand Prize. They were then named recipients of the $10,000 Davis Foundation’s Project for Peace Competition.
Students must win an internal competition at their home university to be nominated.
Lisa Getzler, the executive director of the Baker Institute, wrote in an email that the team demonstrated both passion and the technical knowledge to back it up.
“(Gobe’s) and (Strobel’s) project has a social mission with a tech innovation,” Getzler wrote. “They had a working prototype and a plan to move it forward.”
Strobel said she and Gobes’ plan to use the award money to continue developing the smart bracelet and search for an additional team member. They are looking for help with app and hardware development.
“Once all of the prototyping is done, we will hopefully launch a Kickstarter and begin the marketing and go from there,” Gobes said. “We have a lot to do, but we are very excited.”