Daniel Herrera, James Walters, Mitchell Wyrick, Gene Yang, Brayden York, and Parker Pluckebaum stand in front of a presentation board explaining their Dialytic Transcriber, an app and data collection device to help kidney dialysis patients. The students’ product design earned them a spot in the finals of the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge, a global competition. Courtesy of Kokomo High School
Daniel Herrera, James Walters, Mitchell Wyrick, Gene Yang, Brayden York, and Parker Pluckebaum stand in front of a presentation board explaining their Dialytic Transcriber, an app and data collection device to help kidney dialysis patients. The students’ product design earned them a spot in the finals of the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge, a global competition. Courtesy of Kokomo High School

In between student council meetings, travel soccer, homework, research at Purdue University, an after-school job, jazz band, and many other activities, six Kokomo High School sophomores and juniors are developing an app and data collection device to help kidney dialysis patients. This product design qualified the KHS students for the finals of the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge at the Kennedy Space Center in April. These students, who make up the newly formed KHS Business & Engineering Club, were the only Indiana students to advance to the global finals.

The 26 finalist teams represent six countries – Australia, Canada, India, Nigeria, Thailand, and the United States. Within the United States, teams from 10 states – California, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia – have reached the finals.

KHS mathematics teacher and Business & Engineering Club sponsor, Kayla Siebert, noted: “I am very impressed with what these students have accomplished since September when this club was formed. Within two months the students had developed their idea, and within four months they had created a business plan for the competition. This club is student-driven, and I rarely step in to help. These students have taken the initiative to create this device. The fact that these students have reached the finals in a global competition with their first idea, and in their first year as a club, is remarkable.”

The Conrad Spirit of Innovation competition challenges high school students from around the world to use science, technology, engineering, math, and business skills to improve the world through innovation in the following areas: Aerospace & Aviation, Cyber-Technology & Security, Energy & Environment, Health & Nutrition, and Smoke-Free World. 

The KHS team was selected as a Top 5 finalist in the Health & Nutrition category from 40 global semi-finalists. The finalist teams now are competing to be recognized as “Pete Conrad Scholars”. These teams also may earn awards from sponsors that include seed funding grants, investment opportunities, patent support, business services, and scholarships supporting the growth of their business.

Kokomo High School sophomores Gene Yang and Mitchell Wyrick, under the direction of Ms. Siebert, founded the Business & Engineering Club this school year. Gene and Mitchell’s main goal was to create an organization where students could focus on engineering solutions to complex, global issues. 

The six students in the club – Gene, Mitchell, and classmate Brayden York, along with KHS juniors Daniel Herrera, James Walters, and Parker Pluckebaum – currently are focused on developing a Dialytic Transcriber for dialysis patients. 

The idea came from Mitchell’s personal experience. 

“My grandpa goes through the process of dialysis, and every 15 minutes during dialysis someone has to manually record all vital signs as well as the codes that appear on the dialysis machine,” Mitchell explained. “It really is impractical.”

The KHS students’ proposed product combines all vitals monitoring into one system. The device will use pulse oximetry sensors, pressure sensors, temperature sensors, and minimal user input to record the vitals of a dialysis patient. The device will fit around a patient’s arm, the students noted, so the size of the product does not limit a patient’s movement while in use.

This device then will communicate with an app on a patient’s phone to store the vitals information and the dialysis machine codes in a database under a patient’s profile. This information could be shared easily with a patient’s doctor.

“Our product not only will allow more patients to complete dialysis at home, but it also will help in hospital settings,” Mitchell said. “I have been at the hospital when my grandpa was undergoing dialysis. It was really crowded with the nurses running back and forth to help everyone. Our product could cut down on their work.”

The team’s product development requires a collaborative effort in programming, electrical engineering, and business marketing. 

According to the team, to maximize productivity and efficiency of work, each student coordinates different tasks. Gene is in charge of software and application design. Mitchell leads the CAD design, and assists with software development, funding, and marketing. Parker is in charge of SQL database development, and writing a library, or class, to interface with the application. James leads electrical engineering efforts, and is learning software design. Daniel leads funding and marketing, and Brayden works with all group members to assist in production.

Team members estimate they already have spent hundreds of hours designing their product. Without a dedicated work space, most of this work has happened in classrooms at KHS and in spare rooms at their homes. The six students have juggled these responsibilities with their many other activities. That list includes Student Council, Boys Legion, track & field, soccer, wrestling, swimming, Environmental Club, the Future Business Leaders of America, Book Club, Jazz Band, Marching Band, and an after-school job. Gene even spends time doing research at Purdue University during the school year. 

Despite hectic schedules, the students have prioritized time for this project. Mitchell explained that he and his teammates are naturally motivated.

“We all are so interested in the healthcare field that we are passionate about bringing this product to the market,” Mitchell added.

Gene believes the team is at least halfway to product development completion because the design process is finished. The students are ready to develop the product, but they need funding.

The KHS students noted that they are at a disadvantage compared to other teams in the Conrad Challenge finals because many teams are part of well-established high school student groups with established sponsors to fund their ideas. Everything happened so fast for this KHS team that the students have not had the time to secure sponsorships. As a result, the students have been drawing money from their personal bank accounts to pay for competition fees and purchase needed equipment for their product, Gene said.

“We would love to have support from the Kokomo community,” Gene explained. “Every dollar donated to our KHS team brings our product one step closer to realization.”

Most immediately, the team must raise funds to cover travel expenses to the Innovation Summit, which is April 25th to 28th at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. At the summit, the students will present their design to a live panel of experts, just as entrepreneurs pitch their startups to investors. These experts will judge the students’ design on innovation of concept and the viability of the product. One team in each category will be recognized as “Pete Conrad Scholars”.

The students are responsible for their travel expenses, and they estimate the costs to be approximately $3,000 to send five students to Florida. In addition to raising funds for their trip to the Innovation Summit, the students are focused on securing sponsorships and funds for product prototyping, patent support (including a patent attorney), and product marketing.

Mitchell said the team would be happy to set up meetings with businesses and other potential donors who need more information before making a final decision. The students can make their pitch, and show off their business plan. To make it to the Conrad Challenge finals, the KHS team had to submit a detailed business plan, which outlined the strategy for how the team’s business will transform its innovative idea to a viable product. The business plan included a company introduction, business description, market analysis, competitive analysis, cost, funding sources, a technical concept report, a graphic depiction of the product, and a product video.

While raising funds is a top priority for the team, the students also must meet several deadlines for the Conrad Challenge finals. The KHS team must create a 6-minute presentation, prepare for a 6-minute question-and-answer session, and file for a provisional patent. The team is required to provide proof of the patent filing, and submit their team presentation, by April 16th.

"We were really surprised to be selected for the Conrad Challenge finals,” Gene said. “It is very exciting for us, but also very stressful.” Mitchell added that the stress is worth it for the students because this product has the potential to help so many people.

"We’re just really surprised that no one has thought of this idea before,” Mitchell concluded.