Sometimes careers can go in unexpected directions. For this Big Idea Center team, it all started in the Art of Making class, a part of the honors Swanson School of Engineering curriculum at Pitt. Ravi Gandhi, a freshman at the time, and his team were challenged to create a solution to a problem with a physical product. The team went on a class visit to the Parkinson’s Foundation Western Pennsylvania and interviewed staff and patients to learn about their pain points. One woman, Jeanne, shared with the students that due to her limited shoulder mobility, she was not able to complete normal daily tasks, such as cooking and getting dressed, without depending on the assistance of others or a flexible schedule. To help make her life simpler, the team then brainstormed and got to work on a manufactured device for reaching beyond Jeanne's limited range of motion and making the experience of shouldering a jacket or blazer better—the JacketJoy. (Watch the video)
After creating the prototype in class, Gandhi credited the Innovation Institute and Swanson School of Engineering for encouraging them to patent and form a startup around their first health tech device. The team then decided to get involved with the Big Idea Center through the annual Randall Family Big Idea Competition held each Spring to commercialize and translate their product for sales. As co-founder and CEO, Gandhi and his team established the Reachable Solutions company and grew, adding team members to support the launch of their website with built-in eCommerce functionality, a blog and social media.
“Not only did the Reachable Solutions team find themselves launching a company – and we realize most student teams won’t – but they also found the experience rewarded their entrepreneurial energy with great career options when they graduated,” says Rhonda Schuldt, director of the Big Idea Center. “Giving students the opportunity to have this type of transformative experience that expands how they see (and realize) their careers beyond their time at Pitt is exactly why we are here.”
From left: Ravi Gandhi, Rhonda Schuldt, Grace O'Malley, Isabella Stash and Joshua Zito (Not pictured: Roshni Gandhi and Melody Whittaker)
While Reachable Solutions didn’t win big in their first year, they won second place in the Randall Family Big Idea Competition in 2020 -- and the team “didn’t stop” there. They filed for and received a full patent on the JacketJoy device, secured manufacturing and target customer relationships, launched their company and grew capacity. The team also placed first in a pitching competition held by the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA), Pittsburgh Chapter, and second out of 13 teams in the national 2021 ACC Inventure Competition held virtually by NC State University.
“The Randall Family Competition was great because the learning material was just as important as winning the competition and funding, so even if you walk out without winning a prize, the knowledge gained and ideas tested were also valuable assets,” said Gandhi.
Each competition refined their elevator pitch and strengthened their presentation skills, while also preparing each student entrepreneur for job interviews and future business ventures or graduate school. For the competition, each team must consist of at least two Pitt students, and they must develop an elevator pitch to catch the audience’s attention while sharing detailed plans for the product or other big idea.
After graduating in May 2022, Gandhi is now a law student at Temple University and works for a law firm in Philadelphia.
Meet the Reachable Solutions Team:
Ravi Gandhi (SSOE ’22), Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Isabella Stash (CBA ’22), CSO
Melody Whittaker (SSOE ’23), Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer
Roshni Gandhi (Current Medical Student at Rowan University), CTO
Grace O’Malley (SSOE ’22), CDO
Joshua Zito (SSOE ’22), CMO
This article was written by Grace Zheng, communications intern for the Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Research, while studying marketing and studio arts.