Catching up with Mariana Pinheiro

Saturday, October 8, 2016
 

By Jinelle Shengulette 

Mariana Pinheiro isn’t simply building one start-up at the moment. She’s currently working on three — all aimed at assisting children with developmental disabilities.

The recent Rochester Institute of Technology graduate began working on two of the three projects during a summer co-op for her master’s program last year. The result was Otto, a toy that teaches cause and effect and can be programmed to fit specific abilities and objectives of the user. Lilipad, also a result of the co-op experience, is a set of interactive rugs that emit light and sound to aid children in their daily activities, like getting from one classroom to the next.

The third project, Breathe Buddies, began to take shape earlier this year. The silicon device guides users through calming deep breathing exercises to promote health benefits and self-awareness.

“The basic inspiration and motivation to move forward with these projects, even after the summer co-op, was the kids in these institutions, like Al Sigl. We spent many hours observing their very specific abilities and needs, and we formed an emotional attachment. Also, we realized that this market doesn’t have many interesting products to offer,” says Pinheiro, 30.

The Henrietta resident/Brazil native has a separate team for each project to rely on, consisting of three to four people each. In April, the Otto team was approved to participate in RIT’s Tiger Tank, which allowed them to pitch their product to a panel of judges for a chance to win a cash prize. The team walked away as first runner-up in the competition, which included a $1,000 prize and half-price tuition for the MBA program.

We spoke with the recent grad about how her products have evolved, what her takeaway from Tiger Tank was and more.

The Tiger Tank experience: “That was the first time we started thinking strategically about the business side of our project. We started thinking about how to take these ideas to market and what the size of the market is, and how we’d target and explain our ideas. The big takeaway is how to publicly pitch your idea and how to convey such complex projects in a short presentation — how to defend your idea and pitch all these concepts.”

A product’s evolution: “Otto morphed a lot over time, because we discovered so many things during our close collaboration with Al Sigl. The toy came as a redesign of an adapted switch, a button that allowed children with motor challenges to interact with a toy or object; they could press this button and the toy would react. We realized the switch being linked to the toy was creating a distance between the child and the actual thing they’re interacting with. We realized we needed to design a toy from the ground up that would fit specific abilities and needs.”

Three projects: “Trying to move forward with all three projects at the same time has been difficult. But because I was already immersed in these projects for the past year, it’s just hard to let go. I fell in love with them. In a way, they’re all kind of interconnected, so it makes sense to work on them at the same time. They all apply to the same market: children with special abilities. User testing will be happening in the same environment as well.”

Creating a business: “This is a learning process for me. The biggest challenge is to learn how to have a start-up. I’m studying different aspects of product development that I can help focus and attack, such as creating a business out of it and marketing it. Once we have a working prototype, how will we manufacture this in the real world? Learning how to actually bring these projects to life has been a process.”

For more information:

Breathe Buddies: breathebuddies@gmail.com, (585) 993-4990.

Otto: ottotheraplay@gmail.com, (585) 993-4990.

Lily Pad: lilypadsensorialplay@gmail.com, (585) 993-4990.

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