"A Quirky Memoir"
A retired design prof aids student entrpreneurs.
by Jan Schlain
From the November, 2017 issue
That's how 2017 U-M MSW grad Lindsay "Charlie" Brink describes retired U-M industrial design prof Allen Samuels. Samuels describes Brink as "about four-foot-eleven and fearless."
Brink previously served in the Peace Corps in Zambia, where, she says, she worked with local women to "create sustainable maternal and child health solutions." Back in the U.S., she founded DreamNest, "an emerging startup that provides affordable infant beds to prevent infant sleep related deaths in low-income households."
Families that can't afford cribs sometimes let infants share their own beds--and too often a child is smothered beneath a sleeping adult. Brink turned to Samuels to help develop an affordable alternative. She says they've been meeting weekly at his design studio and "playing mad scientist."
"She's got a problem, and I have a solution," Samuels says. "It's a twenty-four-by-sixteen-by-ten [inch] cardboard cradle, and, when you fold the box up, it's off the ground, and it rocks. It's short-term--for zero to four or five months. Then babies get too big."
Samuels is also working with 2017 mechanical engineering grad Laura Murphy, whose company, Adapt Design, founded with art and design grad Sidney Krandall, is developing foam positioners that help wheelchair users sit more comfortably. Samuels helped design five pieces, which they envision selling as a set. "We have about a million different ideas and five different products in later development," Murphy says. "We're kind of trying to figure out what really great companies to partner with."
Samuels connected Murphy with foam manufacturers and helped Brink get quotes from companies to produce her cradles. But, he says, cardboard companies told them "they know how to make boxes but not cradles" and quoted high prices--an example of the frustrations of business and entrepreneurship.
On Brink's behalf, he even called the head of the state's Safe Sleep for Infants program in the Department of Health and Human Services. "I emailed her and said, 'I'll send you twenty of these [cardboard] cradles. Just try them out.' She wouldn't try them.
"It's about process, working through a problem," says Samuels with a sigh. "It's getting them to say yes. That's a hard one."
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