BASE Accelerator Snapshot: Erik Jamison - Ekeling

Last month was the kick-off of the BASE Accelerator event at the University of Minnesota. Seven student entrepreneurs pitched ideas to a group of mentors and advisors. Over the next four weeks they will refine their concepts in advance of a final Go / No Go session at Walter Library in August. 

We're taking a look at each of the entrepreneur teams in turn. First up is Erik Jamison-Ekeling, a student engineer who is the only member of his team; his mentors are Ashley Mahoney and Paul Taylor. The device he's created is called The Assist. 


Q: What is the elevator pitch for The Assist?

A: Sled Hockey is played by folks with limited or no use of their legs. As you can imagine, hockey rinks were not built with Disabled people in mind. As a result, accessibility at rinks has proven to be the single biggest frustration that this community faces.

I've developed a way to allow players to get on and off the ice by themselves, when previously they required significant external help from volunteers and parents. My goal for this project was to give players more empowerment and independence in their workflow, so they can focus exclusively on playing the game they love.

Q: How is the BASE Accelerator process helping you to refine your concept?

A: Since this project started as my thesis/capstone project, I am working alone and am lacking in the breadth of knowledge and expertise required to launch a full blown company. I also went through the design process with the singular goal of solving a problem that people face, not to make as much money as possible. Working through developing a business and marketing plan is what I am striving towards with my BASE mentors and resources.

Q:  Are you involved in sled hockey community in any capacity, or do you know people who are? I'm curious to know what the genesis of the design process was for you.

A: I was lucky regarding the scope of my capstone project because my professors allowed us to design whatever we wanted, so long as we were solving a legitimate problem. As someone who grew up in Minnesota, I've been playing hockey since before I can even remember. So with my project, I knew that I wanted to tie my love for hockey into that somehow.  I try to focus on and design for communities who have been oppressed, marginalized, or who have not had their frustrations or needs addressed. In the hockey world, that is Disabled hockey.

I started my research by reaching out to Minnesota Blind Hockey and the Minnesota Sled Hockey Association, explaining that I was a student and trying to identify problems to solve for. The Minnesota Sled Hockey Association got back to me first, so I started developing surveys to send out to them and inquired about interviewing players, parents, etc.

After going to some practices, I noticed that in order to get onto the ice, players needed two or three parents or volunteers to drag or carry them to the door to the rink, over the lip of the rink, and then onto the ice. I brought that observation up in interviews, as well as some other accessibility things, and got a stream of consistent responses along the lines of, "Yes! Finally, someone sees and understands what we are going through / are irritated with!" After a few weeks of communicating with the board of the MSHA, I was able to get on the ice with them as a volunteer, where I could see even closer what the players' workflow and experience is like, which was priceless for influencing my design direction and decisions. Plus, I felt like I wasn't just going into their world and community, taking what I needed, and then dipping out; I was developing a mutual trust and relationship with a community. I was able to go to their practices basically every weekend from September to late February and was able to get feedback on sketches and, more importantly, works-like prototypes. 

"Decision Day" for the BASE Accelerator concepts will be held Thursday, August 4 at Walter Library of the University's Twin Cities campus.