June 20, 2024

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Brothers win Student Startup of the Year Award for MedTech startup, Reel Free

This year the MSU Innovation Center hosted its annual Innovation Celebration. At this event, many awards were presented to MSU students and faculty for their technological and entrepreneurial innovations.

The Student Start Up of the Year Award was given to Reel Free, a medical technology, or MedTech, startup co-founded by brothers Alexander and Austin Pollock and supported by the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. 

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Austin Pollock is a recent graduate of Michigan State and studied mechanical engineering and Alexander Pollock is a senior studying human biology.

“It meant a whole lot to be recognized for the award, but it means more being a part of the Burgess Program,” Alexander Pollock said. “There’s so many great startups in the institute and just being one among them is an honor.”

Reel Free began for Alexander and Austin Pollock when their grandfather, who was using supplemental oxygen, had a fall that was caused by tripping over the tubing that carried the oxygen. 

“He asked us if we could create a solution, a solution that organized the oxygen tubing,” Austin Pollock said. 

At the time, Austin Pollock was an undergrad and developed a product through 3D printing. Not knowing what would come next, he posted a video of the product to his LinkedIn page.

“(The video) gathered nearly 300,000 views in a week,” he said. “So that’s when we realized that there was a market for a solution like this.”

The brothers made a good pair going forward, with Alexander Pollock having experience in and passion for healthcare through his degree and his work as a certified nurse assistant. Not only did Alexander Pollock see issues with oxygen tubing with his grandfather, he was also exposed to the problem in hospitals.

“I was around this every day when I was working with elderly patients,” Alexander Pollock said.”I got to see firsthand how much of a hassle and how much of a risk (oxygen tubing) is for individuals who already struggle with mobility.”

Austin Pollock has experience with product development and engineering, also through his degree. This interest was largely influenced by his grandfather. Not only did he teach the pair woodworking, every summer their grandfather, an alumnus of Michigan State, took them to Grandparents University, a three-day campus experience where grandparents and grandchildren take classes together for family bonding. 

“You’d go to the university, and, for me, (my grandfather) took me to some engineering classes,” Austin Pollock said. “So ever since I was in fifth grade, I wanted to go into engineering at Michigan State.” 

Both the passion that the brothers’ share, as well as the different skills they both bring to the table, have allowed them to build a successful partnership.

“We both know where (Reel Free) started and the mission of where we want to go with it comes from the same, rooted issue that we solved,” Alexander Pollock said. “As far as running the business, we each have different strengths, so that just plays a role in complementing each other’s interests.”

Reel Free began in 2022, and since then Austin and Alexander Pollock have worked with the Burgess Institute to gain support and funding for their startup.

“The Burgess program … has helped out big time with getting us from the start to where we are (by) teaching us how to pitch, giving us some funding, allowing us to travel around the country to competitions and just get our foot in the door,” Alexander Pollock said.

A significant source of funding for the startup has been through pitch competitions. In a set up that Austin Pollock likened to Shark Tank, the brothers travel to many different states, pitching their product to judges and audiences and winning cash prizes. 

In addition to the money won in these competitions, the Burgess Institute also assists them in writing grant applications, another source of financial support. Despite the brothers’ success in these funding avenues, there is still a lot of revenue needed in order to take their startup where they want it to go. 

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“It is a class one medical device, so we need to have it registered by the FDA, so that’s a funding challenge there,” Alexander Pollock said. “Also, manufacturing is another thing that we’re in the process of doing, and that takes a lot of capital.”

Marketing their company and increasing knowledge for the issue they are trying to solve is another obstacle the brothers have faced in the development of Reel Free. One way they are hoping to raise awareness is an upcoming 5K run and walk in Grand Rapids, the their hometown. 

The event is called the Lung Legacy Run and will be held on Saturday, Aug. 10 in Grand Rapids. 

“We’re working with the COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) foundation and raising awareness for lung health,” Austin Pollock said. “So we’re bringing the community together for a 5K run, walk and then a half mile walk, hopefully for patients on oxygen therapy to be able to do.”

Ultimately, the brothers’ hope that Reel Free will be a device present in every hospital in the nation. Until then, they are on schedule to sell the first units of Reel Free by the end of the year to CareLinc, a major medical equipment and supply company.

“The current version is intended for home use,” Austin Pollock said. “It’s an accessory to the oxygen tank or concentrator. We also have a wall mounted version that’s intended for the 4.2 million hospital patient rooms. We want to be in every single hospital patient room that supplies oxygen.”

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