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Penn State Student-Founded Startup Wins $100,000 Grand Prize from Cisco

by on July 06, 2017 2:53 PM

A State College-based startup founded by a Penn State student to provide low-cost technologies that give voice to people with disabilities was awarded the $100,000 grand prize in the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge.

Project Vive was established by CEO Mary Elizabeth McCulloch while she was an undergraduate student at Penn State. She graduated from the university in 2016 and is a 2012 graduate of Bald Eagle Area High School.

Cisco, the world's largest networking company, challenged college students and recent graduates to develop new technology solutions for global problems.

Project Vive submitted its Voz Box, a speech-generating device that gives voice to people with disabilities such as ALS and cerebral palsy. The patented assistive technology is customizable and costs a fraction of other speech assistance devices. It uses sensors adapted to the physical needs of the user and special editing software to create a vocabulary and construct words, phrases and sentences that are then amplified.

The device was selected as the challenge's grand-prize winner out of 1,000 applicants and 15 finalists.

“Project Vive is from Penn State University and they give a voice to the voiceless. How great is that?" said Tae Yoo, senior vice president of Cisco Corporate Affairs.

The startup plans to use the prize money to invest in manufacturing and implementation.

McCulloch, who graduated with degrees in bioengineering and biomedical engineering, will be conducting a pilot study in Ecuador, where the concept for Project Vive was first born. She first became interested in creating the technology while working with children with a variety of needs at an orphanage there and she realized the lack of available, affordable technology to assist those who are non-verbal or have complex communications needs.

In June, Project Vive won a $5,000 special recognition award at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Innovation Showcase Competition, where it was one of 10 finalists.

Project Vive was among the first group of five local startups selected for Happy Valley Launchbox, the no-cost business accelerator developed by Penn State in collaboration with local government and businesses. 

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