Today’s conventional orthopedic cast dates back to the 1850s. Although minor improvements have been made over the years, casts have remained essentially the same: a combination of cloth and plaster that, once hardened, encases a limb at 360 degrees in order to immobilize that limb and give the bone time to heal.

The endeavor that would become Cast21 began with a simple exchange between Ashley Moy and Jason Troutner at a gymnastics meet in the spring of 2015. Both were in their senior year at The University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Both were looking to work on a senior design project with real, practical implications, something that would expand their talents and test their skills. They wanted that one project that would set them on fire.

A major in biomedical engineering, Moy had recently returned from her appointment to the National University Hospital of Singapore where she served as a liaison between scientists in an academic laboratory and clinicians operating within the clinical setting. Taking part in the process of discovery and implementation of workable solutions was an experience Moy found deeply rewarding. She came back to university wanting to continue in this vein and do something “new, exciting and impactful.” Troutner, an acquaintance with whom Moy had talked engineering in the past, and who struck her as serious, smart, and driven, seemed like a great candidate to partner with on that final senior project.

Because Moy’s major was biomedical engineering and Troutner’s mechanical engineering, the two decided to focus on the areas of overlap between their respective disciplines. This led them to the topic of medical devices and they got to brainstorming.

“When we got to casts,” Moy says, “because Troutner had been in so many, he was basically like, ‘Ah, let me tell you all the horrible things about casts.’” “I was born with clubfoot on both my feet,” Troutner explains, “so I was in a lot of casts as an infant. Then I had another one or two (casts) as a young child after surgeries to correct that.” Troutner later went on to become a gymnast. He’s broken wrists and other bones, and has experienced wearing casts for months at a time.

Whiteboard“By the end of that brainstorming session,” says Moy, “we had covered the white board.”

“What we realized,” Troutner continues, “was all of the problems that we were looking at, the itchiness, the sweatiness, the skin breakdown, the odor, everything came back to two problems. And the two problems were one, that casts are not waterproof, and two, that they have a horrible tendency to trap water, sweat, bacteria, and heat. Those two issues combined are the root causes of many of the medical complications and user complaints with the typical orthopedic cast. Once we figured out what the problems were, we started drawing some ideas and looking at different structures in nature, in technology, and even structural engineering in order to find some sort of shape that we thought would be able to solve the problems of trapping all of this dirt and debris against the skin.”

Moy and Troutner focused on designing a more functional cast while never forgetting that their solution would have to work within existing medical practices and procedures. They also started exploring other, more advanced possibilities for Cast21, including a future iteration that incorporates pulsing electrodes to help facilitate the body’s own healing processes. Knowing this next step would require an electrical engineer they started fielding offers.

Justin Brooks, who was already friends with Jason Troutner, responded to a Facebook post about the opportunity. The subsequent interviews and vetting told him Cast21 was “no ordinary senior design project.” This fact suited him perfectly. The three engineers communicated throughout the summer while Brooks was working at Rockford at UTC Aerospace. That following August, he returned to the university, fired up and excited to have a project he could really sink his teeth into. “I saw that this was a project that would really challenge me as an engineer,” Brooks says. “Not only would I need to draw on the experience I’d gained at UTC to make the most precise, complete circuit and packaging that I could, but I would have to dig deep into the creative side of things, as well.”

Over the coming months, Brooks also saw he could fill a niche by managing the business side of the project. He naturally assumed the role of COO, working through financials, intellectual property protection, market research, publicity, and more. Brooks credits the accelerators the team has been a part of for much of his hands-on learning. He also says the Eagle Scout motto from his youth, to “be prepared,” serves as a invaluable mindset in today’s fast paced startup world.

Preparedness just might be this team’s middle name. Over the past year, Cast21 has won Saint Louis University’s “Real” Elevator Pitch competition, been a finalist for the 2016 CNVC Awards, appeared at TechWeek Launch Chicago, participated in Memphis’s “Summer of Acceleration,” and has been featured on WGN TV, Endgadget, and other numerous publications.

Learn more about Cast21 at the press page.