Startup helps industrial workers breathe easy
GVSU student develops mask prototype to help those working in harsh winter conditions.
Orindi Ventures began with a runny nose.
Jordan Vanderham, a student at Grand Valley State University, was getting tired of cutting across campus during the winter and walking into a building with the sniffles. And as he considered his annoyance, Vanderham began to think of how the cold weather must affect industrial workers, athletes and others who work long hours outside.
From that thought sprung an idea, and Vanderham began to search for a solution. What materialized from that brainstorm was Orindi Ventures, Vanderham’s startup. His solution was a mask that covers the wearer’s nose and mouth and retains moisture and heat expended while breathing, essentially allowing the wearer to breath in warm air despite the cold atmosphere.
Vanderham, who now is a senior at Grand Valley, had no idea if his mask would take off. But after gaining steam with his pitch as a sophomore at 2015 Startup Weekend, he started to think he might have something.
“How Orindi happened, I just wanted to take the idea and flesh it out a touch, see if it’s worth it to pursue,” Vanderham said. “It’s been two years now, and it’s still worth it.”
Entrepreneurship is in Vanderham’s blood. A native of Holland, Vanderham said his father has owned his own company for 30 years, which is what interested him in becoming an entrepreneur.
In fact, Orindi is Vanderham’s second venture — he also dabbled in entrepreneurship with Vandergen, a passion project that went through the stages of business development but didn’t get off the ground. When he started at Grand Valley, he quickly got involved with the Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, which further stoked his interests. Involvement in the center and the GVSU Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization has been key in his drive with Orindi, Vanderham said.
While Vanderham would love to crowdfund to support the startup, his schedule as a student and entrepreneur doesn’t allow for it. So, Vanderham has raised $62,000 for Orindi Ventures through various pitch competitions over the past couple of years and has expanded to a team of two — himself, and Kendall College of Art and Design student Jared Seifert.
Vanderham continues to handle the engineering of the mask and business development, while Seifert manages industrial design and sales. The mask itself has gone through about 10 iterations to find a design that not only works but also fits snugly and comfortably on the wearer’s face.
According to Vanderham, the human lungs are responsible for about 25 to 35 percent of expended body heat and water, which can lead toward dehydration or hypothermia in extreme weather conditions. As Orindi’s mask captures heat and water, it re-humidifies and heats up air that is breathed in, reducing the amount of energy spent.
“An industrial worker in a cold environment is less comfortable and efficient than he would be in a temperate one,” Vanderham said. “The mask works to change that.”
Orindi’s mask is set for its first market validation beta test, with 10 units being distributed to a Michigan-based cold storage facility for use by its employees. Vanderham said beta testers will wear the prototype masks for a week in a cold weather environment and then provide initial feedback. The masks will then go through some small fixes based on the feedback, and another batch will be sent to the testers. The entire first testing process is expected to take about six weeks.
“It’s a long process, but by the end, we’ll have a final designed mask custom-made for the industrial market, and they’ll be able to guide us to a defined purchase price,” Vanderham said.
Following the initial test, Vanderham expects to run another small beta test — closed to about 100 people — and if that goes well, he should be able to move toward internet sales and business to business cold weather industrial markets. The target date for going to market is around September, he said.
While the initial customer base is for industrial workers, Vanderham said the mask has a number of properties that would make it attractive to a variety of markets. Throughout the prototyping process, he has heard from athletes, medical professionals and recreational hunters who have expressed interest in a mask that could make cold weather activities more bearable. Vanderham also said the mask has the potential to relieve asthmatic symptoms in athletes, making an expansion to the medical market possible, as well.
But before any thoughts of expanding to athletic wear and medical markets begin to form, Vanderham has to keep his sights on entering the industrial market.
“With this mask, we’re able to use technology that’s unlike our competitors,” Vanderham said. “And targeting this branch of industrial workers, it gives us the leverage of knowing our audience. There’s good potential for growth, but right now, we’re focused on growing slowly and carefully.”