$375,000. Dr. Michael Larson proudly shows off the Kickstarter amount he’s raised for the Sleep Shepherd, an electronic cap that weans users off prescription sleep aids and helps them fall asleep naturally.
An hour later, it’s up again: $378,223.
“I check this about every six minutes,” Larson said, adding that he purposely set the limit at $25,000 to be sure to be successful. “I didn’t imagine we’d be this successful. It’s gratifying.” Owner of Mind Rocket, a technology startup that resulted from engineering research and entrepreneurship at UCCS, Larson hopes to raise $1.5 million for Sleep Shepherd Blue, one of a handful of products that the firm is working to move from lab to market.
“People keep talking about the need to create a more vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in Colorado Springs,” he said. “They talk about needing more tech startups to attract those young, bright students to move here and to stay here. I decided to put those ideas into practice with Mind Rocket.”
So he moved to a part-time position at UCCS and hired five engineering graduates from the school to help him bring his inventions to the marketplace. The team not only helps create the products — they bring a young, quirky sense of fun to the marketing side of the business.
“I’m hoping we’re successful,” Larson said. “We want to be a model for other types of businesses who want to do this. We want the Springs to look attractive to people who want to have tech startups.”
Larson started the entrepreneurial efforts with Mind Studios at UCCS, where engineering students helped local inventors create products from ideas. But few businesses were launched, so he established Mind Rocket and helps UCCS with its business incubator, The Garage.
“Innovation in progress” is the tagline for Mind Rocket, and is the company’s driving force. That means working on multiple projects at once — discovering which ones capture the public’s imagination and their pocketbooks.
The Sleep Shepherd is the focus of Mind Rocket’s latest Kickstarter campaign, marketed as a cure for insomnia. Larson’s daughter was diagnosed with narcolepsy, a sleeping disorder, and placed on powerful medications to help her sleep.
“I maintain that if you can’t wake up on your own, you aren’t sleeping; you’re unconscious,” Larson said. “When we ended up in the emergency room, I decided it was time for a different solution.”
So he invented the sleep cap, whose electronic components ease the wearer into sleep. The second iteration is Sleep Shepherd Blue, a headband designed to provide the same benefits. The Kickstarter success shows it resonates with the public.
“We want the Springs to look attractive to people who want to have tech startups.”
“We get a lot of testimonials,” he said. “People who thank us for giving them the first good night’s sleep in a long while — sometimes decades.”
Mind Rocket is working on a couple of other products as well. One, Larson said, is an orthopedic product that he might soon license to a company.
“We’ll have news on that in a few weeks,” he said. “So I can’t talk about it just yet.”
Another product is a laser-fusion option for nasal surgery, easing recovery from surgery without packing the nasal cavity full of gauze. That one must go through animal and human trials before the Food and Drug Administration deems it ready for market. The product has undergone two sheep trials at Colorado State University, he says.
“It’s expensive to get things approved by the FDA,” Larson said, “very expensive, very time-consuming.”
Supreme Court case
Larson might be the only person in Colorado Springs with a lawsuit pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. The suit stems from an intellectual property case with toy giant MGA Entertainment Inc., most known for its popular Bratz dolls and Little Tykes line. Larson created a laser chess game, called Khet, which the toy company copied, despite the patent filed by the inventor. Larson won cases in Louisiana and a state appeal as well. But the federal appeals court dealt his efforts a major blow, removing the clause that allowed him to recoup legal fees.
“In intellectual property law, they only allow you to collect legal fees if the case is ‘exceptional,’” he said. “The original court said it was, but the federal appeals court said it wasn’t. The damages from the case nowhere meet the legal fees — it’s very expensive to pursue patent infringement.”
But Larson is fighting on — and the case could be heard soon by the Supreme Court justices, who will be asked to clarify the “exceptional” clause in intellectual property cases.
“It definitely gives an incentive to big companies with deep pockets to take ideas from smaller groups,” Larson said.
Larson has other ideas in the works: a button that links people face-to-face based on social media profiles and a headband that provides head massages. While the social media button is on the back burner, he has already marketed and sold several headbands.
“Something has to be on the back burner,” he said. “And while I think there’s a market for social media connections in person, we’ve decided to focus on the other products right now.”
Larson hopes to continue providing the Sleep Shepherd to insomniacs around the globe. His research into sleep disorders and their cures has shown him a new area of medical-device research that hasn’t been fully explored.
“Sleep is so vitally important,” he said. “And so many people have problems with insomnia or apnea. I’m thinking there are better solutions than the machines that force air down your throat — which has only about a 13 percent compliance rate; most people quit using it — or heavy medication.”
So far, he’s sold 4,500 units of the Sleep Shepherd, and the latest Kickstarter campaign will finance future manufacturing.
And where’s that level now?
As of Wednesday: $419,787.
Year established: 2013
Location: 1047 Elkton Drive