Monday, Oct. 23, 2017
Matthew Sozio was helping his lifelong friend and fellow Virginia Commonwealth University student Neil Hailey move into a house on Park Avenue when they discovered Hailey’s couch was not going to fit easily through the patio door.
“He's got this really awesome couch, but it’s just large. Like, really large,” Sozio said. “Eventually we got it through the door somehow, but it was absolutely exhausting. We were like, ‘There has to be a better way.’”
Sozio, a Master of Product Innovation graduate student, and Hailey, a junior mechanical engineering major in the School of Engineering, started tossing around ideas about how they might address the common problem of moving furniture that doesn’t easily fit through a standard sliding patio door.
“We got online and started looking at different door systems and different ways to get around this problem,” Sozio said. “We found that there were solutions, but none that allowed you to keep the functionality of your sliding glass door.”
Sozio and Hailey decided to try and design an entirely new kind of door, one that would combine the functionality of a common sliding glass door and a hinging French door.
The result? The French Slide.
“We combined the way that a sliding glass door and a French door works. It can open by sliding or by hinging,” Hailey said. “We took the best features of both styles to come up with a new kind of residential door.”
Sozio and Hailey have formed a startup, Efficient Innovations LLC, and are beginning the work of bringing the French Slide to market.
“We’re just a couple of college kids. Why would we be able to innovate something — a door — that’s been around for so long,” Sozio said. “Well, Neil got on his computer and did some CAD work and we realized that this is actually plausible.”
Sozio and Hailey grew up across the street from one another in Manassas, Virginia, and launched a number of startups together, notably including a landscaping company called M&N Landscaping Services.
After graduating from high school, Sozio attended community college for two years before transferring to VCU, from which he graduated in May with a degree in criminal justice from the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.
Last spring, Sozio and Hailey participated in a Startup Spring Break event hosted by the da Vinci Center, a collaboration of VCU’s schools of theArts,Business,Engineering andCollege of Humanities and Sciences that advances innovation and entrepreneurship. Their French Slide concept won an award at the event that allowed them to work on building a prototype and receive mentorship at local makerspace Build, RVA.
After Sozio and Hailey pitched their idea at Startup Spring Break, Garret Westlake, Ph.D., executive director of the da Vinci Center, encouraged Sozio to enroll in the Master of Product Innovation program, which would allow him to develop Efficient Innovations and the French Slide while Hailey finishes his engineering degree.
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“I realized that this program would be perfect for me and for the company because I would be going to school to essentially work on the door,” Sozio said. “This is my capstone project.”
Sozio and Hailey, Westlake said, are a great example of how VCU supports entrepreneurial students as they seek to develop their innovations.
“The da Vinci Center promotes the idea of an iterative design process and providing students with multiple opportunities to advance their ideas in the classroom and through experiential learning,” Westlake said. “The Efficient Innovations team exemplifies the cross-disciplinary approach of da Vinci and the power of an innovative ecosystem that allows students to tap into a variety of resources at the right time.”
Somiah Lattimore, director of experiential education and director of VCU Innovate Living Learning Program, said VCU provides an array of services to student entrepreneurs like Sozio and Hailey.
“It is exciting that da Vinci has been able to capitalize on offering the first Master of Product Innovation [program] in the country — it allows us to recruit talented graduate innovators and entrepreneurs,” she said. “Once at VCU, they have access to experiential offerings such as the VCU Pre-accelerator, VCU Startup Spring Break, RamTank pitch events. Beyond that, our robust ecosystem provides access to funding, potential co-founders and resources beyond the scope of a university, such as Lighthouse Labs, Startup Virginia, New Richmond Ventures and more.”
Over the summer, Sozio and Hailey focused on the process of obtaining a patent for the French Slide, and tapped the services of a pro bono lawyer who assists students at VCU’s Founder’s Corner, a co-working space for student entrepreneurs in University Student Commons.
“We talked to him about whether this is actually patentable, or if we’re just fantasizing about an idea that someone has already patented,” Sozio said. “He looked at it and told us he thought what we had was very innovative and that he'd never seen anything like it before, so he referred us to a patent lawyer here in Richmond.”
With the help of the intellectual property lawyer, Sozio and Hailey now have a patent pending. They believe the French Slide has major potential.
“We hope to see a point where if you’re building a house or installing a patio door, this will be seen as a great option,” Hailey said. “If you have a normal house with a back patio, why not put in a door like this? If you’re [a developer and] building a neighborhood, why not put this door in the houses?”
“Our goal is to eliminate the sliding glass door in its entirety,” Sozio added.
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