From a competitive pool of over 1600 applicants, Valley Venture Mentors graduate WorkSafe Technology was accepted to the MassChallenge summer 2014 accelerator program. Worksafe, founded by Dan Koval and Richard Stephens, creates products that reduce common workplace injuries. The company was born from a series of interviews Koval and Stephens conducted with hotel employees in 2012, in which they learned that many housekeeping staff were injured on the job and consequentially sustained health problems that limited quality of life. These injuries also led to employers paying high rehabilitation costs.
From the interviews, two activities in particular were highlighted by staff as being especially damaging: first, making beds and second, cleaning bathrooms. The action of being over a mattress and lifting its’ weight caused back problems. Cleaning bathrooms was hard on the knees as housekeepers stooped to scrub floors while hands clenched around towels often developed joint issues. Koval and Stephens partnered with design engineers to come up with products meant to address these pains. The first, the “Tuck-it” debuted in 2013 and received a previsionary patent. A large spatula-like tool, the “Tuck-it” can be inserted under a mattress while sheets are changed and used as a wedge to lessen the lifted weight. The “Tuck-it” has the additional benefit of also encouraging safe alignment of the body, preventing injury to the back.
Koval was a member of Valley Venture Mentors at the time WorkSafe launched and was introduced to MassChallenge through a VVM field trip in spring of 2013. After learning about the accelerator, he and his team applied to MassChallenge for the 2013 cycle. As they went through rigorous judging process, WorkSafe Technology realized they were in early states of product development, a realization made more acute as questions about the viability of patent protection surfaced. Ultimately unsuccessful in their first application to MassChallenge, Koval turned to Valley Venture Mentors and his team was accepted into the fall 2013 cohort. Once a part of the mentorship program, Koval and Stephens received intensive guidance from their facilitator, Rick Plaut. His assistance came at a crucial moment for WorkSafe: as they developed a prototype to address the second pain identified by housekeepers, cleaning the bathroom, they noticed a shift in demand from their prospective clients. “There was a palpable energy and excitement” Koval remarked about the “Du-op“, a flexible mop that was specially designed to promote the health of joints in the hand and knees. Easy to use and flexible, the “Du-op” ensures that users do not need to use ladders to reach high places through the inclusion of an extendable handle and low, hard to reach corners are made accessible through an ergonomically designed handle.
As WorkSafe Technology learned more about the needs and preferences of their clients, they had a decision to make: stay with the Tuck-it or pivot to the “Du-op”. They chose the later and in hindsight, Koval remarked that the academic conception of a pivot is very different from the reality, which can be likened to “a fast divorce and re-marriage”. As WorkSafe weathered this hectic transition, their facilitator was indispensable because of his background in product development, manufacture and marketing. “Rick went above and beyond the call of duty, speaking with us once or twice weekly to discuss each stage of the pivot.”
This guidance as well as monthly presentations at VVM helped WorkSafe to define and refine their message as they began to change their primary offering to the “Du-op”. This time, when the team applied to MassChallenge they had quickly matured from early stage prototyping to selling their first products. This change was noticed by the judges at MassChallenge and Koval remarked on their engagement and vision for WorkSafe even as the team went through the early judging process. Koval noted “there was no way we would have gotten into MassChallenge without Valley Venture Mentors. Because of the network, contacts, mentoring and monthly presentations we made the refinements needed to be successful. I whole heartedly recommend VVM.”
To learn more about WorkSafe Technology Inc. visit them online.