Friday, September 17, 2021

Grand Forks Red River Student Sudiksha Singhal Recognized in International Business Plan Competition

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DECA, short for Distributive Education Clubs of America, is a career and technical student organization that prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs interested in careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management. Singhal, who will be a junior this fall, was named as a finalist in the Entrepreneurship Independent Business Plan Event, and is among 15% of competitors who earned an international medallion for excellence as an overall finalist.

“When you first get your braces, they really hurt,” she said. The protruding metal edges make cuts that “generally take up to two weeks to heal.” The discomfort is repeated with each adjustment.

Singhhal, 16, knows firsthand how painful or irritating braces can be. She has worn braces for four years, she said. “This is something that was a huge problem for me, because my mouth is a bit sensitive.”

She designed a tiny ring, which she envisions would be made of a flexible, rubbery material and placed over each bracket on the tooth, and developed a business plan with the help of UND Center for Innovation employees.

A dentist and family friend who practices in Toronto has told Singhal that her device is new and that nothing like this is currently available, said her father, Sandeep Singhal.

Sudiksha Singhal has taken steps to start a business, which she has registered with the state of North Dakota, and is working with orthodontists to develop the device. She has a provisional utility patent for the device and plans to obtain “a design patent, as well as a whole utility patent, in the coming year,” she said. Her business plan is focused on marketing to customers, primarily dentists, rather than the end consumer.

“Orthodontics is a really competitive field,” so being able to offer this solution to patients would give orthodontists a competitive edge, she said.

“The main solution that orthodontists like to use is called orthodontic wax, and it works to some extent, but it’s not a way to prevent the injury; it’s more of a way to give the injury time to heal. It’s also really tricky to handle, so if you don’t do it exactly right, it won’t fit probably — so there’s a lot of drawbacks.”

In this field, there are other responses to this problem, she said.

Singhal hopes to eventually take her idea to the clinical trial stages to iron out any potential hazards, she said.

Supportive educators

Her efforts to launch this idea began in an engineering class led by Ryan Moldenhauer, who challenged students to pursue a product-improvement or product-development project, she said. Then she moved the project forward through DECA and received support from DECA advisers, Dustin Norby and Brent Pollum, she said.

Moldenhauer “has been really helpful,” she said, especially with building images of her design.

In his class, Singhal gained exposure to the design process, Moldenhauer said.

In the portfolio she created for competition, “her whole process of explaining how she got to her idea is very well-laid out,” Moldenhauer said. “It’s one thing to have an idea or identify a problem and create a solution. But it’s quite another to show all of your work that went into it. And I think that’s what I was most impressed by.

Tyler Sletten, entrepreneur consultant, and Annie Nistler, an intern and law student, who work at the UND Center for Innovation, also mentored Singhal and helped her secure grant funding from InnovateND, a program of the North Dakota Department of Commerce, in obtaining a provisional patent.

“She laid out not only the problem, but the problem behind the problem and potential solutions. I think there were even manufacturing costs,” he said. “It is a legitimate solution. It isn’t like a Band-Aid-type of fix or an initial idea; it’s a fully-fleshed out idea.”

“A major component of the InnovateND program is the customer discovery process, in which clients are required to validate their fit in the market by getting out and talking to potential buyers to see where the gaps are in the market,” Sletten said. “Sudiksha grasped the value in the process immediately and utilized the discovery to benefit her project and business.”

“Singhal is the youngest person I have worked with and possibly the youngest to ever be admitted to the InnovateND program,” said Sletten. Though she is young, “her business idea in and of itself is excellent.”

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