“This journey has been incredibly emotional,” said Michael Kurley, CEO of Soletics.
What started as an extra credit project has taken Kurley on a three year path to developing a self heating glove designed to bring relief to people with Raynaud’s disease. Those who suffer from Raynaud’s experience an interruption of blood flow to their fingers, toes, nose and/or ears, which causes painful tingling, throbbing or numbness.
These attacks can be triggered by subtle changes in temperature (i.e. walking into an air conditioned room or reaching into a freezer). 6 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with Raynaud’s and it’s estimated that 30 million actually have it.
Kurley and his business partners, Lindsay Noonan and Vanessa Gore, didn’t have Raynaud’s in mind when they were brainstorming a concept to pitch at the Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge (MCEVC). The three were offered extra credit in their Management 330 class, taught by Dr. Tim Syfert, if they participated in the competition.
They played with the idea of wearable tech.
“Lindsey proposed a solar powered running shirt for rugby players,” Kurley said. “…it pivoted to snow sports,” says Kurley. The team won the competition for best prototype, walking away with $3,000 in investment capital.
Although none of them were business majors, they were excited by the entrepreneurial process and dove head first into further developing their product. They formed a company, called it Soletics and continued to enter competitions, winning a total of around $80,000. By the time they finished the competition circuit, the team was onto self heating gloves. And then they heard about Raynaud’s.
“People with Raynaud’s kept coming up to us and saying, ‘Hey, this is a really cool thing. I have this condition and you should look into it and build something for us.’” Kurley said.
They developed a thin, washable, self heating glove that is tailored specifically to the symptoms of Raynaud’s. Today, Soletics has raised over $330,000 and is on track to launch their first product in March of 2016, with Keystone Solutions in Kalamazoo as their manufacturer. They currently have 271 orders from all 50 states and as many as 8 countries.
It has not been an easy path. When asked what the biggest challenge has been, Kurley responds that sticking with it through hard times was difficult. “You win a bunch of money and get great validation, and then you find out that something technical that you thought was going to work, doesn’t.”
And the most rewarding part?
“Taking something from nothing,” Kurley said. “We are about to launch a product that will improve people’s lives and we started for extra credit in a college class.”
Michael Kurley has a Bachelor of Business Administration from GVSU and is currently completing his MBA.