BARS founders Adam Zapotok (left) and Jace Valls (right) at Accelerate’s pitch contest this summer.

BARS, a medical device startup founded by three Wentworth students, has one of those origin stories that make you say, “Awww.” The company, which is working on a product that would help people with walking impairments improve their mobility, was inspired by the heartwarming desire to assist the elderly and disabled.

“The project started while my friend Luis and I were taking an intro class together,” explained Jace Valls, one of BARS Co-Founders. “We both had grandparents who had impaired mobility, so we wanted to make a device that would help them regain it. The class gave us a budget of $150 and we were able to make a portion of device. But then we realized after the class was over that we didn’t want to stop working on it.”

“All they’re given is something to lean on. With our device, there’s the possibility of getting them off this dependence, and that means so much to them.”

From there, Valls and his business partner Luis Mata decided they should take advantage of the resources available to student-led ventures through Wentworth Accelerate. The catch? They found out they couldn’t pitch well. At all.

“We pitched for the first time, and it was terrible. So bad,” Valls said. “The product was the same as it is today, but we had no clue how to convey it.”

Fortunately, Mata and Valls brought on Adam Zapotok, another Wentworth student. With Zapotok’s insight, the team was able to perfect their pitch and they landed funding from Accelerate last spring.

Creating better ambulatory therapy

Money allowed the guys to create the device they have today — a comfortable, water-enabled device that looks like an inflatable harness. It would help patients with impairments resulting from conditions like strokes or spinal chord injuries.

Normally, these individuals have to rely on walking therapy on Lokomats — machines that look more like torture tools than something healing. Lokomat machines pose a few problems: There are only 84 of them in the U.S.; they’re extremely expensive for both hospitals and patients; and they’re none too comfortable for people using them.

That’s why BARS is so appealing. The startup’s device is inexpensive and easy to produce, so its treatment will be readily available to those who need it. Because you can control the amount of air that’s used to inflate the device, it can adapt as patients progress, pushing them to improve further. And, maybe most importantly, it will be covered under Medicare, so older patients will no longer be paying out of pocket for mobility therapy.

Valls also wanted to point out that the device is powered by pools and he believes that will make all the difference.

“Being in an aquatic environment is ideal,” Valls told me. “It will bring patients a lot more comfort because the attributes of water will give them relief from joint pressure and pain. So not only will they be improving their walking, but they’ll also feel better while doing it. That gives them incentive to keep doing it and continue to get better.”

Next steps

The BARS team is continuing to craft their therapeutic device. After a couple more iterations of prototypes, as well as testing, the team hopes to bring BARS to the market. But the timeline for that is unclear because the founders are still students and have to juggle other priorities like Co-op.

However, the progress they’ve made so far is something to be proud of. Especially on the part of Valls’ grandmother.

“I’ve spoken with my grandmother a couple of times, and she’s nothing less than extremely supportive about it,” Valls said. “I’ve watched her walking impairment — how it hasn’t gotten better at all — and that gave me this idea. She was a nurse in WWII and she’ll still go out of her way to help other people — but won’t help herself.”

“Usually, the elderly have to rely on walkers or cane to help them walk,” he added. “But those aren’t therapy devices. They’re assistive and only help them get by. All they’re given is something to lean on. With our device, there’s the possibility of getting them off this dependence, and that means so much to them.”

Image provided by Jace Valls.