RIT Student-Entrepreneurs Win Grand Prize at National Inventors Competition

Strong Arm Ergonomic Lifting System receives Open Minds 2012 video and overall awards

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Strong Arms and Open Minds—a winning combination.

Sean Petterson and Justin Hillery, inventors of the Strong Arm Ergonomic Lifting Safety System, placed first overall at the recent Open Minds Competition, part of the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance 16th annual conference. The fourth-year students from Rochester Institute of Technology were part of the national showcase of collegiate student innovators, projects and prospective business ventures, held March 22–24 in San Francisco.

Their video about the Strong Arm device received the most votes in the Open Minds video competition and received a $1,000 award. The video competition is co-sponsored by NCIIA and Inventor's Digest magazine. They also won the award for People’s Choice for Best Innovation. In that award, investors, professors, NCIIA participants and others voted on the best invention.

The students have received a scholarship to participate in additional entrepreneurial development training at the NCIIA Venture Lab. Petterson is an industrial design major and Hillery is a multidisciplinary studies student.

“We are honored to win this award,” Petterson said Monday morning. “We want to thank the RIT Center for Innovation, Venture Creations, the College of Business, the industrial design program and multidisciplinary studies.”

Open Minds is a celebration of the achievements of NCIIA grantees who have successfully competed for early-stage seed funding. This year, 12 university teams were featured at the conference. Petterson and Hillery received a grant to develop the Strong Arm in 2011.

“The E-Teams that are selected for Open Minds are on their way to transforming inventive ideas into successful products and ventures," said Phil Weilerstein, NCIIA executive director.

This is the first time in the 16-year history of the conference that RIT has had a team selected to compete, says Carl Lundgren, professor of manufacturing and mechanical engineering technology, and faculty advisor.

This team developed the Strong Arm, a form-fitting garment that incorporates a system of load-bearing straps that allows workers to lift heavy objects with significantly less risk of injury. The system shifts the forces of lifting from the injury-prone hands, arms, neck, shoulders and lower back and distributes them evenly to stronger and more stable areas of the torso.

Click here to see a video on Hillery and Petterson produced by the Democrat and Chronicle.