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SOTERIA Flooring startup wants to make falling safer

A Notre Dame graduate entrepreneurship program alumna is working towards longer, safer lives for people with a fall risk — not with grasp bars or fall buttons, but with a patented flooring system designed to “restore the right to fall.”

Julie Moylan, CEO of SOTERIA Flooring and ESTEEM program graduate, arriving on campus summer 2021 with an undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Galway. Moylan made it her business to dive straight into the entrepreneurial scene, having never pursued anything like it before.

She was paired with a flooring startup previously founded by Tim Ovaert, a professor in Notre Dame’s mechanical and aerospace engineering department. Moylan helped reshape the “nearly completely stopped and dissolved” company. Today, SOTERIA is still in the pre-seed round of funding, raising $80,000 dollars so far.

The twice-patented flooring product was commissioned by the CDC for research purposes but was soon turned into a purchasable product that reduces the occurrence of injury from falling.

“It can be installed under your carpet or linoleum, anything that has a bit of give, in nursing homes or care facilities, assisted and independent living,” Moylan said.

Moylan said 25% of those who fall [that are] over the age of 65 are dead within six months of the injury, and the problem only gets worse with age.

“People are actually dying because of it and nothing has been done,” she said.  

During the 35-month period before installing their flooring in a facility in Ohio, 21 fractures were recorded. Once SOTERIA flooring was installed, Moylan said there was a 100% reduction in fractures, 100% reduction in overnight stays and a near complete reduction in ER visits.

“People with dementia and Alzheimer’s forget they can’t walk anymore and are incredibly prone to falling. The only alternative to them getting up or falling down was to strap them to the bed, which is completely inhumane, so giving them back the right to fall is a huge part of our mission.”

SOTERIA currently has two major installations in Ohio and has no plan to slow down. The company is currently talking with a care facility in Kentucky and the Logan Center in South Bend. 

Moylan is utilizing the traction the company is gaining to expand into the construction industry,.

“It’s tough to be a new player in that market, so I need a global flooring or commercial flooring provider to sell directly to the customer,” Moylan said.

A partnership like this has the potential to ramp up adoption of the flooring.

“They will have the resources to offset some costs and include us as part of their portfolio, so for me it’s about being selective about a partner that will accelerate our route to scaling in the market,” Moylan said. “We are in discussions with all those people, especially their research, design and innovation arms, so they let us know what they need to see from us, and now it’s just up to us to get there.” 

Moylan’s advice to budding entrepreneurs is to trust their gut instincts.

“You will have people to advise and guide you, but when you’re in it and something doesn’t feel good, don’t go against your internal instincts,” she said. “I can’t even describe how much you will be pulled in all sorts of directions, so just listen to yourself, trust yourself and trust your product.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of the story mistakenly said SOTERIA Flooring had raised $20,000 instead of $80,000.

Contact Kate at knaessen@nd.edu

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Architecture students help revitalize South Bend, Kalamazoo

An architectural drawing of a proposed design for downtown Kalamazoo. / Credit: Kate Naessens – The Observer

Marianne Cusato is leading a new initiative to revitalize underutilized areas of South Bend and Kalamazoo, Mich., while also providing a professional environment and learning opportunities for students.

“It’s a combination of looking at human community development patterns and how we can use that to build a better home,” said Cusato, professor of the practice and director of housing and community regeneration initiatives within the School of Architecture.

During a four-day period, a team of students and faculty from the School of Architecture met with public officials, city planners and various industry professionals in a practice known as a “charette” to discuss and map out plans to make better use of Kalamazoo’s layout. The goal of the project is to make the city more accessible and enjoyable for the public.

“There is no hierarchy in charette” is a phrase senior Angelica Ketcham heard repeatedly throughout her experience that describes the teamwork involved.

“Small, midwest towns are an interesting urban design puzzle because a lot of them experienced urban renewal in the ’80s and ’90s,” Ketcham said. “The goal of the charette is less ‘this is what’s wrong with your city, and this is how we are going to fix it’ but ‘this is what is great about your city, how can we do more of it? How can we emphasize it? How can we revitalize what’s around it?’”

Dylan Rumsey, a third-year graduate student, explained that after the “core downtown area” of Kalamazoo was identified, the next step was to create a zoning plan to support the commercial areas.

Then, the architects had to decide what buildings were worth preserving or replacing, how to better direct traffic to make these areas more commercially friendly and how to utilize the surrounding alley networks to make the street itself more accessible on foot.

“We were really just thinking how we could take the space in between the buildings and best utilize it for traffic and pedestrians,” Rumsey said.

While reflecting on his time in Kalamazoo, Rumsey said he hopes urban planning can be more centered around the consumer experience in the future.

“Designing public spaces should be the number one approach to any kind of urban planning, and I think that is something we’ve really missed the mark on here, especially in middle America, because cities just aren’t nice places to walk around,” he explained.

An architectural drawing created by Notre Dame architecture students participating in the charette project. / Credit: Kate Naessens – The Observer

Now, with the plan itself finished, Ketcham and Rumsey said they are going through the process of compiling the results of the charette to present in a public report in the coming months.

The next charette will be with Habitat for Humanity in Mishawaka during fall break, Cusato said.

“We’ll do three charettes a year, plus a charette lab course, which does the prep work and follow-up for each of the charettes,” she said.

Cusato said students can expect to experience real-world problem-solving from being involved in this initiative.

“For so long, we have been on autopilot, just accepting that the world around us is just the world around us, but with these charrettes, there’s a real energy around them from feeling like you can actually be a part of a solution,” she said.

Contact Kate at knaessen@nd.edu.