There aren’t many things more painful for college students than waking up for morning class — yes, 11 a.m. classes included. The pain is even worse during winter, when it’s still dark and gloomy outside the window in the mornings.
Medill sophomore Sophie Davis and recent Weinberg graduate Tarushi Sharma sought to solve this problem through Lux, a smart lamp that customizes a bright light sunrise to one’s sleep cycle. The duo recognized the difficulties of waking up in the morning, and they personally experienced seasonal affective disorder (SAD) during the cold, dark winter days.
Their initial idea of combining bright light therapy with sunlight simulation sprung from their Principles of Entrepreneurship class. They started working on the idea with two other students as a class project, but Davis and Sharma brought it to The Garage to continue and expand their idea into a marketable product.
“We looked at all these bright light therapy lamps that were designed to treat SAD, and they were all really, really ugly. So we thought we should revitalize them and make them look really pretty, ergonomic and also combine them with sunlight simulation,” Davis said.
“In The Garage, [Lux] kind of evolved into what it is right now. As you’re exiting from deep to light sleep, when you really want to wake up and you feel really refreshed, the light gradually brightens and wakes you up. And it exposes you to bright light therapy, so you’ll have less depressive symptoms in the winter,” she said.
Davis and Sharma are two of the 24 women participating in the Propel Program, an initiative taken by The Garage to foster and support young female entrepreneurs.
While the program officially launched last year, its first cohort was chosen in January 2019. The program concludes with a showcase in June, where several students will present their projects. Throughout the program, the program participants, aka “Propellers,” receive a stipend of up to $1,000 and are paired with mentors who provide professional advice.
“Propel is a way for us to really signal that we, here at The Garage and at Northwestern, are available to help cultivate women entrepreneurs,” Hayes Ferguson, the associate director at The Garage, said.
The Propel Program is the first non-co-ed program at The Garage, introduced in order to address the issue of the dearth of women in the startup ecosystem. A blog post on Experian notes that while the number of women-owned businesses grew 45% between 2007 and 2016, a remarkable five times that of the national average, women merely received slightly above 2% of investor and venture capital funding in 2016.
“It’s a pretty well-documented fact that there are fewer women in entrepreneurship; a lot of it has to do with confidence, access, networking,” Ferguson said. She said this phenomenon was evident in The Garage as well, as The Garage gets “far fewer applicants to work on projects from women than from men.”
“We’ve heard everything from that they feel more comfortable networking with other women, they don’t feel as overshadowed. And they feel like they belong, which is a feeling you don’t always have in a co-ed environment,” Ferguson said.
A few students from the program will be selected as ambassadors for the program and travel to New York City in the fall, where they will have the opportunity to meet female leaders in various industries. Last year’s ambassadors, chosen among The Garage residents, met inspirational females at places such as The New York Times and Goldman Sachs.
“I think it’s amazing to be in a space full of women. Being in this environment where everybody is recognized and supported, and we can bounce ideas off of each other, it’s just a great learning environment,” Davis said.
While Lux may seem like a complex, technical wizardry, Davis said she “didn’t really think about it as a scientific product.” Rather, she said she saw it as an aesthetically-pleasing lamp with cool functionalities that could also be seen as a scientific product.
Now, Lux is managed by a team of two engineers and a product designer in addition to the co-founders and is currently going through the prototyping stage. The team will participate in Wildfire, the pre-accelerator program at The Garage. Davis said she hopes to launch a Kickstarter campaign in order to fundraise for their startup.
“Our target audiences are millennials who have a set schedule – they already want to optimize their daily routine, and so this can just help them do even more,” Davis explained. “We want it to be basically at every household of millennials."