Emerging out of a field of 25 teams, Flagler Palm Coast High School seniors Cameron Driggers and Roymara Louissaint won the second annual MedNexus Innovation Challenge Wednesday, and $1,000 each, by developing an experiment-based idea that uses technology against itself in an effort to reduce teens’ sleep deprivation.
“I come to you with a problem. Sleep deprivation is on the rise, and counting sheep is just not going to cut it anymore,” Louissaint said as she introduced the duo’s company, RedShield–what Driggers described as “a pair of entrepreneurial seniors” who are “passionate about revolutionizing the personal device accessory market.”
The pair were one of five finalist teams making their pitch at the Palm Coast Community Center event. Louissaint and Driggers went on to impress the five judges in a seven-minute presentation followed by questions in an exercise that combined the atmosphere of Shark Tank–the speed-pitching of entrepreneurs vying for investors’ dollars–with the spirit of freewheeling academic idealism and marketing savvy. Driggers and Louissaint, in their scarlet and black getups and near-flawless delivery, were all business, their self-assurance as ramrod as their poise.
Their idea derives from an if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them philosophy: personal devices like phones and tablets have been linked to teens’ sleep deprivation, with–according to RedShield’s presentation–nine out of 10 people using devices before bed and 97 percent of teens getting less sleep than recommended. (The figure, which RedShield did not source, is an exaggeration: according to the Centers for Disease Control, six out of 10 middle schoolers and seven out of 10 high schoolers don’t get enough sleep.)
The team–not surprisingly, IB students–then described how personal devices’ blue light disrupts circadian rhythms, inhibiting melatonin production and therefore sleep. Red light, on the other hand, does not stimulate the brain and has been used successfully in sleep treatment.
They actually put their theory to the test with 27 students, dividing them in groups. One group was asked to go to sleep without altering their usual habits, whatever devices they used. The second group was asked from completely refraining from using their devices. The third group was asked to use devices as usual, but to also change their devices’ graphical settings to project a red rather than blue tint. “So we repeated this process again, and again, until we came to a statistically reliable average,” Driggers said.
Students exposed to blue light had a far worse sleep outcome than those who had no exposure at all, who slept best, or those who were exposed to red tints, who lost sleep, but not as much as those who were subjected only to blue light. (“Of course it’s not going to be 100 percent clinically accurate, because we don’t have those resources,” Louissaint conceded.)
“So this means we have two approaches when addressing the sleep-deprivation epidemic,” Driggers said. “We can replace blue-light exposure with red-light exposure, or we can ask young adults to completely forego their phones before going to bed.” But, he said, there’s a need to confront reality: “Young adults are not going to stop using their devices at night. You can take that from us,” he said to the knowing laughter of parents in the audience.To combat blue light, RedShield’s product, Louissaint said, “incorporates cutting-edge sensor technology, integrated in thermoplastic Polyurethane screen protectors.” She showed a slide of the multi-layered product, the third layer using a type of sensor technology that gathers light information and differentiates between daytime and nighttime, and knowing when to admit red light. RedShield would then sync its app with the user’s health app to report data. That part of the presentation did not include production costs, jumping straight to outcomes: The product would enjoy “tangible, proven increments to sleep outcomes, and enjoy a high degree of user-friendliness,” Driggers said. Other products, such as sleep-aid medication and melatonin pills, pose “a significant health risk to users.”
The team then went into its sales approach and even proposed prices: from $20 to to $40 depending on the device, with “serviceable” markets of hundreds of millions of dollars, from 55,000 public schools to colleges, companies and accessory retailers.
“We hope you give our red light the green light by supporting our company, RedShield,” Driggers told the judges in closing. He and Louissaint had decidedly not put the judges to sleep. To the contrary. They gave RedShield first prize.
The University of North Florida MedNexus Innovation Challenge is partnership with UNF, the City of Palm Coast and Flagler Schools. The team-based entrepreneurship competition, a signature program of UNF’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, showcases top regional high school students tasked to pitch their solutions to Florida’s evolving healthcare needs. Sleep deprivation and improving sleep quality for young adults was this year’s theme. The center is headed by Karen Bowles, who coordinated Wednesday’s event.
“Partly what we have is phenomenal students,” David Szymanski, director of MedNexus, told the audience, “who they are, the great educational system that we have.” He said it was the students’ idea to focus this year’s theme on sleep deprivation. “I don;t remember doing this when i was young. I don;t remember having these opportunities. I don;t remember being that good, that we can actually do these things, so I am proud of them as you are, I am proud to be here, proud to represent MedNexus here in Palm Coast.”
Mayor David Alfin, who has championed the partnership with UNF and MedNexus, welcomed the students and acknowledged “the excitement and anxiety being felt by those students right now.” He said he tried to speak with each of the student competitors “to tell them: stop and take just a moment to enjoy the experience. These experiences can be few and far between. It’s important that they leave this room tonight feeling how much they have accomplished.” He also recognized the many parents in the audience. “A support system is pivotal, pivotal in the development of a child, and can be the likely to unlocking the door to a successful future,” he said.
“We haven’t done anything,” School Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt said, describing the district’s interest in the innovation challenge since its inception. “We’ve been able to afford the students this opportunity by the partnership that UNF has created with the City of Palm Coast, with the MedNex complex and concept moving forward. So this entrepreneurship opportunity, through the medical experience and the technology, for the students to be able to team up and collaborate and work with faculty at UNF and other professionals to prepare them for life beyond high school is truly remarkable. Flagler schools, we are so proud to be part of this opportunity for students to stretch themselves beyond the classroom day.”
It was not a simple process, and it required a considerable amount of time, afterschool and on weekends.
Twenty-five teams submitted applications. Five teams, with eighteen students, were selected to work with and be mentored by by UNF, business, and healthcare professionals before reaching Wednesday’s stage.
“So I commend any student who put themselves forward and went through the process to develop that,” Mittelstadt said. “The bar was set so high last year, so I’m interested to see how the pitches go this evening, because I know I could use some sleep deprivation assistance as well. Some of the things we’ve been working through in the school district and with the storms lately, I think we’ve all been stretched. So let’s all sit back and learn from the best, the brightest and the future that we have here and the surrounding school districts and Flagler schools as well.”
Each team was given seven minutes to pitch their ideas to the judges, followed by brief question-and-answer period. The judges were Alfin, Palm Coast Director of SCORE David Ferguson (a former Palm Coast City Council member), Flagler County Economic Development Manager Delores Key, Advent Health Sim Center Manager Lee Wright, and Flagler schools’ Heidi Alves. The advanced television production class from Flagler Palm Coast High School volunteered to film the event. (See the video below.)
Pitch Team Summaries and Winning Teams:
RedShield – First Place Winner: A screen protector for electronic devices that blocks blue light and emits red light during “bedtime” hours.
Flagler Palm Coast High School: Cameron Driggers, Roymara Louissaint
Nudg3 – Second Place Winner: An application that makes it easier to restrict screen time for young adults.
Flagler Palm Coast High School: Brandon Herrmann, Ryder McDowell, Savannah Miranda, Kimora Sanchez.
Sleeparium – Winner of the Audience Choice Award: Bedroom system designed to keep a user and their environment in ideal conditions to receive the best quality sleep.
Flagler Palm Coast High School: Glynnis Gong, Brendan Wang, Greyson Peugh, Chloe Long, Nicholas Groth
SleepNext: An application that surveys your habits and provides solutions to your sleeping problems by linking users to treatments that promote better sleep.
Allen D. Nease High School & Beachside High School: Kyle Bae, Shiven Neelkant, Daniel Kurian, Aditya Yellapragada, Jay Dalvi
Tozy Pillow: A pillow that adapts to user’s sleeping positions to maximize comfort and features a tactile alarm system, cooling gel technology, and more, in order to encourage healthy sleeping habits.
Allen D. Nease High School: Anthony Bismi, Miles Moerman
The top two winning teams and the team who won the Audience Choice Award were all awarded scholarship money to further their education. Each member of the second-place team won $750; each member of the first-place team won $1,000, and the team selected for the Voters Choice Award won $1,000.