Born without his left hand, Jordan Nickerson grew up learning how to complete tasks using only one hand.
“I tried to use a prosthetic [hand] when I was really young, but it did not quite work for me. They were just hooks and my mom would tell me I would beat my brothers with it versus actually using it,” Nickerson, who is a student at Portland Community College, told O&P Business News. “Later on, just after high school, there was this new [prosthetic] company that moved into my hometown and they wanted to sponsor some people to come in and test [their product]. So I went and did that but it was the same experience I had as a kid. It was just a standard metal hook, kind of intimidating looking and did not quite work for me. That is all that is out there for the basic [prosthesis], so I never really had one and had to learn how to adapt with one hand.”
While at a networking event in Portland, Nickerson met Shashi Jain, who is affiliated with e-NABLE.
“I was listening in on the conversation he was having with other people and he pulled out his phone and showed a rendering of a [prosthesis] that was designed to be 3-D printed,” Nickerson said. “I have always been intrigued and fascinated with [prostheses]… so I walked up and asked him if I could have it, if he could print it out. We met up a couple of times, got my measurements, printed the prosthesis out and it did not work for me.”
However, instead of being discouraged, the experience inspired Nickerson to address the problem. With some help from Jain, Nickerson decided to work from the prostheses on e-NABLE’s website and create prostheses that are customizable so they could work for anyone.
“[e-NABLE] is open-sourced online so I am taking those [prostheses] and making them work for myself,” Nickerson said. “That way I can find out what is wrong with them and create my own based on the open-sourced design that is fully customizable and will work for anybody regardless of how much hand they have or do not have.”
From the idea of creating customizable prostheses, Nickerson decided to start his own company called GRASP.
“Back in April, Shashi and I were working [together on GRASP], but he is a busy guy. He has a few other companies that he is working on right now already, so I just got a couple of my friends together and we have been continuously developing and building the company,” Nickerson said. “Everything started falling together in July, so it has been recent, but it has been an incredibly fast pace and moving forward quickly.”
The group has had support from Portland Community College, which has allowed Nickerson to use its MakerSpace, which is two large rooms with 1,500 square feet of creative workspace. The MakerSpace includes more than 12 rapid prototyping machines, including 3-D printers and scanners, CNC machines, lasers, vinyl cutters, sheet metal tools, plastic injection molder and a sewing machine.
With all the help he is receiving, Nickerson hopes to have a fully finalized, fully functioning prosthesis early this year before he launches a campaign to help with funding.
Startup PDX Challenge
Through the connections Nickerson and colleagues made while working on creating customizable prostheses, they heard about the Startup PDX Challenge taking place in Portland, Ore.
“The Startup PDX Challenge is an annual competition soliciting applications from startup businesses that will benefit from having free rent, free professional services and a capital grant to expand,” Nickerson said. “A committee made up of challenge sponsors and experts from Portland’s startup community selects the winners based on their potential for growth and other factors.”
After filling out an application, Nickerson and his colleagues began to promote GRASP through social media to gain votes and prepared to pitch their idea of customizable prosthetics to a panel of judges. Although GRASP did not end up in the winner’s circle, the group came in second place in the Popular vote at 1,400 votes and were named Merit Finalists, winning $4,000 in memberships and office space.
“Overall, [the Startup PDX Challenge] was very exciting,” Nickerson said. “The voting round only lasted 1 week, but I have to say it was probably one of the most fun, craziest weeks I had in a while.” — by Casey Tingle
Disclosure: Nickerson has no relevant financial disclosures.