PhilaU ID Alum’s Rubber Band Launcher is Aiming to be the Next Big Thing

Ben Stack poses with his rubber band launcher.

By Mike Bederka –– Reprinted from

Fresh off a successful U.S. debut at the Fall Toy Preview in Dallas, the minds behind a futuristic-looking rubber band launcher aim for it to be the next big “it” item.

“Shooting rubber bands is essentially in the male DNA. I don’t think there’s a guy who can sit at a table with a rubber band and not pick it up, work it onto his fingers and eventually fire it,” said Alan Dorfman, president of Bristol, Pa.-based Super Impulse USA, developers of the product. “We’re trying to do to rubber band launchers what Super Soakers did for water guns.”

Inventor Ben Stack said his love for rubber band launchers stretches back to his childhood, when he routinely made them as a hobby. While attending Philadelphia University, the 2014 grad had the opportunity to combine his lifetime of building experience with ample resources.

He further developed his launcher as part of his senior industrial design project. The school’s laser cutter allowed him to build a new iteration of his prototype every day, Stack said. He had the working mechanisms down, but this rapid process helped to solve some ergonomic issues.

Zoe McKinley, director of PhilaU’s Blackstone LaunchPad, sat in on one of his senior presentations. Impressed with what she saw, she introduced Stack to Dorfman, a 1982 graduate of the university. During Stack’s pitch, he brought in a Nerf dart gun — along with his own product — for Dorfman to try out as a test for accuracy and ease of use. According to Dorfman, Nerf and other foam dart guns make up the chief competition for rubber band launchers in general. “The foam darts were flying left and right,” he recalled. “I hit the target three times in a row with Ben’s rubber band launcher. Right then, I knew it was a great opportunity.”

Stack squashed his planned Kickstarter campaign and signed an inventor’s contract with Dorfman. In addition, he offered Stack a contract to develop the Precision Rubber Band System line (“Precision RBS” for short) and other projects. Over the past six months, they’ve worked with a manufacturer overseas to further develop and fine tune the product, which comes in small, medium and large sizes and is aimed for those eight years and up. It will be available in U.S. retail outlets in March.

With a project of this scope, along with the engineering precision required, a ramp-up like this usually takes twice as long, Dorfman says. “However, Ben knew exactly what he wanted, we all had specific end product goals in mind and we’re working with a premier manufacturer.” The two just returned from the Fall Toy Preview, an important industry trade show where they demoed the product for retail buyers, industry executives, sales reps and trade media. As a result of this event, they expect wide distribution of the Precision Rubber Band System from corner toy stores up to big-box stores.

“This is a hit-or-miss industry,” Dorfman said. “With the hits, the sky is the limit. And we’re aiming for the sky for this one.”

Blackstone LaunchPad Philadelphia supports student entrepreneurship in the Greater Philadelphia region through a partnership between Philadelphia University, Temple University and the University City Science Center.


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Students Visit Medical Device Manufacturer

As part of this semester’s Materials & Processes class, students recently visited Warminster-based manufacturer MK Precision. The company specializes in creating medical devices and components from titanium and a plastic called PEEK.

Students were afforded a unique opportunity to go behind the scenes at the facility to see the company’s full range of capabilities — including their machining processes capable of achieving tolerances within an incredible .0001″. After a full day, each member of the group received a memorable souvenir — a bottle opener made from a modified titanium bone screw.




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PhilaU Alumni Pecha Kucha This Thursday Night!

Come find out what happened after graduation, share stories of the real world, and meet students and designers from other programs.  Graduates of Philadelphia’s industrial design programs- PhilaU, Penn, Drexel, and University of the Arts- will each show 20 slides for 20 seconds each, for a whirlwind tour of where a Philadelphia Industrial Design degree can take you.

Click here to register for free!

Thursday, October 8, 2015 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM (EDT)
PhilaU Nexus Design Factory – Hayward Hall, Room 012. Schoolhouse Lane and Henry Avenue. Philadelphia, PA 19144


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Nexus Maximus Project with Johnson & Johnson

The winning team’s concept, Tally, revolutionizes the way we drink soda by providing calorie and sugar counts right at the dispenser.

How much sugar is in that soda you’ve just selected to accompany your evening meal? How many calories will it add to your day – and in what way will those calories impact your overall health?

Over a long weekend, four Philadelphia University students from three different academic backgrounds – and one graduate student from across an ocean – came together to discuss those questions and the global health challenge they represent.

And, in just three days, this self- proclaimed “dream team” was able to develop a user-friendly solution, debut a working prototype on campus, astound the University’s president and take home the Most Innovative Concept Award at PhilaU’s 2015 Nexus Maximus Event.

“It was so simple, but so clear,” said PhilaU President Stephen Spinelli Jr. “I immediately thought – this is something that’s already market-ready, something we should install here. It’s mind-blowing that there’s no limit to the creative potential of people who’ve spent only a few days together.”

The five students comprised one of 45 teams made up of 330 students who participated in the second annual Nexus Maximus sprint project sponsored by Johnson & Johnson.

For Team TALLY – which included Aria Lee, a junior industrial design major; Evan McNaught, a sophomore studying landscape architecture; Caroline Hinckley, a senior fashion merchandising major; Kellyn Kemmerer, a freshman fashion merchandising major; and Thomas Demmer, a mechanical engineer at Paris-Est d.School (an innovative graduate design program in France) – it was all about “giving the power to the users.”

The winning team presents their work for judging during the event finale.

“A lot of people didn’t realize how much sugar and how many calories were in the soda they were drinking, so we wanted to make it easier for them to recognize and visualize,” said Lee, gesturing to the prototype, a design that counts the number of calories and grams of sugar in the amount of soda a user dispenses from a soda fountain and equates that amount with sugar packets, so the user has a better idea of just how much he or she has consumed.

Data collected by the device could be sold to soda companies and insurance companies to create a revenue stream, added McNaught.

Team TALLY received a lot of feedback when they set up their prototype in the university cafeteria, and many students were shocked when they realized just what they were putting into their bodies.

“People don’t like when you tell them something’s bad for them. It’s better to give them a little push so they’ll find out for themselves,” Lee said. “And this is just a prototype – it could be expanded in the future to vending machines; it could measure fat content in foods; the possibilities are endless.”

All five students were amazed at how well they were able to work together, each offering unique perspectives and skills that complemented one another.

“I was able to bring my experience as an engineer, and each one of them brought their different visions and methods of solving problems from the design and customer sides,” Demmer said. “I learned a lot from their views which I can bring back with me to France.”

D.R. Widder, vice president of innovation at PhilaU, said industries and universities are increasingly recognizing the importance of diversity in innovation – a concept perfectly illustrated by Nexus Maximus.

Students present concepts to industry professionals and University guests.

“Most of these students didn’t know each other, and that’s especially true for our international participants,” he said. “These students came across the ocean to sleep on our students’ couches, share ideas and collaborate with them on real-world challenges.”

That sentiment was supported by Michael Moscherosch, director of research and development for external innovation and alliances at Johnson & Johnson. “From the industry perspective, we get great ideas from an event like this,” he said. “These students are unencumbered by prior knowledge, data and other constraints. They very often go down pathways we don’t understand at first, but then we end up wondering why we hadn’t thought of them.”

For Tod Corlett, director of PhilaU’s Industrial Design Program, the second year of Nexus Maximus exceeded expectations – in its sheer size and the ingenuity of the ideas produced.

“This year, I saw a combination of innovation, common sense and critical thinking when it came to solving problems,” Corlett said. “Our students – and the students involved in our global network – were able to create powerful solutions that could actually meet real-world challenges.”

Another one of those solutions – winner of the People’s Choice Award – focused on the problems of obesity, nutritional deficiencies and mental health issues among children in low-resource areas.

“With Viridian Education, we bring the outdoors inside – giving young children the opportunity to grow their own food, learn about science and work collaboratively, and then prepare this healthy, locally grown food in their own kitchens,” explained Michael Gregori, a sophomore landscape architecture major, who developed the concept with teammates Austin Becker, Clay Helfrick, Danielle Schipps, Declan Flynn, Gabby Karlis, James Laurie and Yisma’el Shareef-Trudeau.

“Working as a team toward this idea allowed us to make connections and realize the benefits of our teammates’ experience and knowledge,” he said. “Feedback from the professors really helped, too. This was a true cross-collaboration, and we believe the resulting solution could make a significant impact on children’s health.”

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PhilaU Industrial Design Student to Pitch Medication Device to AOL Co-Founder Steve Case

Industrial design student Kyle Garb prepares for $10,000 pitch competition.

When he was in high school, Kyle Garb witnessed first-hand from a family friend the severe pain that burn patients experience during their treatment and recovery.

Now a senior industrial design student at Philadelphia University, Garb will have the opportunity to present his proposal for a less painful medication applicator to AOL co-founder Steve Case during a $10,000 student speed pitch competition in Philadelphia Sept. 29.

Garb was one of eight area college students selected to deliver a 60-second funding pitch as an offshoot of the larger Rise of the Rest startup funding event during its Philadelphia tour stop. Garb will deliver his pitch to Case and two others outside the National Constitution Center, 525 Arch St., at 3 p.m. tomorrow. The winner will be announced at the main pitch competition starting at 4 p.m.

“This innovative application device will revolutionize the treatment of burn patients,” said Garb, who is working on the device for his senior capstone project.  “It will be deliver the topical treatment without direct contact with the patient’s skin, which can be very painful.”

Since finding out he was selected to participate, Garb, of Madison, Ct., has been working with PhilaU Blackstone LaunchPad Director Zoe McKinley on perfecting his pitch. After he delivers his 60-second pitch, there will be a one-minute Q&A before the judges.

“We are excited to have Kyle representing PhilaU at this special student pitch event,” said McKinley, who also is director of PhilaU’s Entrepreneurship Center. “Opportunities such as this, no matter the outcome tomorrow, help move innovative ideas farther down the path and closer to impacting many lives.”

In addition to reducing pain through an innovative medical application, Garb said his device would improve the precision of treatment and use less medication than current methods. “My goal is to advance a successful treatment delivery system that improves on what is currently available and can help make treatment and recovery better for burn patients,” he said.

The Rise of the Rest, spearheaded by Case, is a nationwide effort to encourage entrepreneurs in emerging startup ecosystems. Since 2014, Case and his team have visited 14 cities and invested $1.5 million in businesses. The winner of the tomorrow’s main Rise of the Rest pitch competition in Philadelphia will receive $100,000 in startup funding.

In addition to co-founding AOL, Case served as chairman of AOL Time Warner  and is currently chairman of the Case Foundation and CEO of Revolution LLC, which includes such well-known businesses as LivingSocial, Zipcar and Exclusive Resorts. Other judges for the student pitch competition include Amy Stursburg, Blackstone Charitable Foundation executive director, and Steve Tang, CEO, University City Science Center.

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Philadelphia University Launches first North American Design Factory, Joining Global Innovation Network

Philadelphia University launched the PhilaU Nexus Design Factory on Sept. 11, in collaboration with international partner Aalto University in Finland. It is the first Design Factory in North America.

With the opening of the new Design Factory, Philadelphia University joins an international partnership—the Design Factory Global Network (DFGN)—designed to foster innovation across cultures, continents and industries.

“The Design Factory gives Philadelphia University students the opportunity to engage in a global network by forming creative partnerships with innovators around the world,” said Philadelphia University President Stephen Spinelli Jr. “Becoming the first Design Factory in North America speaks to the quality of our transdisciplinary education and the entrepreneurial spirit of our students and faculty.”

Aalto Design Factory Founder Kalevi “Eetu” Ekman welcomes PhilaU to the global network.

Aalto Design Factory Founder Kalevi “Eetu” Ekman welcomes PhilaU to the global network.

Kalevi “Eetu” Ekman, Aalto Design Factory founder and professor, warmly welcomed the newest member of the Design Factory network. PhilaU, Ekman said, “shares the same passion for educating the best designers in the world. An interdisciplinary approach, problem-based learning and close partnerships with industry and society are the key components that help us to challenge both academic and practical conventions in an unequaled and powerful way.”

In addition, he said, “We already share experiences from a joint entrepreneurial education program, and PhilaU students have successfully participated the Aalto University product development course.”

The official opening of the PhilaU Nexus Design Factory in its new home in Hayward Hall 012 included a ceremonial ribbon-cutting by Spinelli, Ekman, PhilaU Vice President for Innovation D.R. Widder and Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Rich Negrin.

The PhilaU Nexus Design Factory will create new opportunities for PhilaU students to collaborate internationally with students and industry partners, Widder said. As one of the first steps, this year six PhilaU students will be selected to participate in global projects with Design Factory partners on projects with 12 industry sponsors.

Celebrating the launch of the PhilaU Nexus Design Factory.

The DFGN, which began at Aalto University in 2008 and now includes 10 universities and one research organization, brings together research, education and business practitioners to create a new learning culture and opportunities for continuous development. The shared understanding and common ways of working enable the universities to collaborate efficiently across cultures and create radical innovations.

Philadelphia University’s signature Nexus Learning approach – active, collaborative, connected to the real world and infused with the liberal arts—and commitment to transdisciplinary project-based learning and connections with industry partners makes it a perfect fit for the Design Factory model.

In addition to PhilaU and Aalto, other Design Factory locations include Sino-Finnish Centre in Shanghai, China; Swinburne Design Factory in Melbourne, Australia; Duoc UC Design Factory in Santiago, Chile; IdeaSquare@CERN in Geneva, Switzerland; Design Factory Korea in Seoul; Porto Design Factory in Portugal; and the soon-to-open RTU Design Factory in Riga, Latvia and Frisian Design Factory in Leeuwarden, Netherlands.

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ID Students Design Back-To-School Products For Umbra & Target

In collaboration with Target and product design firm Umbra, four Philadelphia University industrial design students are having their products manufactured and sold as part of the mega-retailer’s back-to-school line.

Target announced the sale of the student designs, winners of a design competition with Umbra on July 22. The items, under the label Loft by Umbra, are now available online and on the shelves of Target’s almost 1,800 stores. The students and PhilaU’s industrial design program will share royalties on sales of the items, which range in price from $9.99 to $19.99.

The winning PhilaU industrial design students and their products are:
Nick Friez: Bunky, a bedside stand to hold electronics and books.
Chloe Muller: Roo over-the-door laundry bag that converts to shoulder tote.
Sam Pawlak: Cacti, a multi-surface desktop organizer.
Anthony Maladra: Trig, a graphic pegboard to hold items.

The students, now seniors, tackled the design project as part of a Fall 2014 design studio co-taught by Lyn Godley, associate professor of industrial design, and Mike Leonard, academic dean of the School of Design and Engineering. Godley, who has known Umbra co-founder and Vice President for Inspiration Paul Rowan professionally for many years, helped advance the project.

“This is an incredible opportunity for our students to have their products manufactured and on the market at a mass retailer the caliber of Target,” Godley said. “This level of visibility and volume is huge for any designer, let alone a student, and will open many doors for them in the future.”

Target and Umbra sought out the student collaborators because, in addition to bringing top design skills to the table, the students know first-hand the challenges of living in dorm rooms and small spaces and the need for innovative solutions.“Our students did a remarkable job translating consumer needs into great products,” Leonard said. “The Target products in collaboration with Umbra are exceptional and will perform well in the market.”

Nick Friez and his Target design

About 25 industrial design students at PhilaU participated in the project. Rowan and members of the design team at Umbra, a Toronto-based home products design firm, worked with students throughout the fall, offering frequent feedback and advice in person and via videoconferencing.

“Today, schools understand that industry relationships are crucial to professional development,” Rowan said. “The opportunity to work with the Umbra team, to design for their own peer group, was recognized to be a huge benefit to the students. For our part, we’re thrilled to help student designers begin promising careers.”

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Angela Yeh Comes To PhilaU
















This Wednesday April 29 at 6pm in the DEC Forum Angela Yeh, president and founder of Yeh IDeology will be joining us to share anecdotes and insights from over 15 years in the talent recruiting industry. Learn what opportunities are out there today, how the industry is changing, and what you need to do to take control of your career path, market your talent, and brand your passion.

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Hero-Inspired Design
















PhilaU ID Freshman Jackson Gordon has designed and built his own fully-functional, life-size Batsuit. While taking his inspiration from superhero mythology, Gordon incorporated some very real capabilities into the final design, including making the suit both impact- and knife-resistant. Gordon’s design has recently attracted attention from a wide array of media outlets inlcuding Time, Buzzfeed, CNET, Popular Mechanics, and Boing Boing. Click here for a short feature about the project by the local Philadelphia FOX affiliate.

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Most Modest for HighTower

Justin Champaign and Ben Salthouse of Most Modest.










PhilaU ID alum Ben Salthouse, half of the San Francisco design team Most Modest, recently created several new furniture designs for HighTower that are now in production. Both the Jaxson Stool and the Linden Table Series beautifully combine simplicity of form with maximum functionality. Find out more about Most Modest and the entire range of designs they’ve created for HighTower here.

The Jaxson Stool and Linden Table Series by Most Modest for HighTower.

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