For the nearly 400,000 people nationwide who suffer from heat sensitivity as a side effect of multiple sclerosis, a Rochester, N.Y.-based company is committed to providing cooling relief at a reasonable cost.
ThermApparel, a company in Rochester Institute of Technology's Venture Creations business incubator, designs lightweight cooling vests and has announced a partnership with MS Focus: The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation to provide the garments free of charge to people living with multiple sclerosis who meet certain income requirements.
People can apply to the MS Foundations' Cooling Program between February and June. If selected for the program, they can choose cooling garments from one of three providers, including ThermApparel.
Their product, UnderCool, weighs less than 2 pounds and is made with a four-way stretch fabric that holds a biodegradable and non-toxic phase change material that freezes at room temperature and keeps a person cool for one-and-a-half hours.
"It's exciting to be able to get our cooling vests out to the people who really need them," said ThermApparel co-founder and RIT alumnus Kurtis Kracke '15 (industrial design). "The vest is mailed directly to customers as soon as they're approved for the program."
What started as a multidisciplinary student project in 2015 through RIT's Simone Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship has quickly developed into a viable business with the cooling vests being sold in 40 states and in nine countries. The company is also expanding to market to customers who are heat sensitive due to medical drug side effects, hormonal imbalances, traumatic brain injuries and other neurological disorders.
"Many cooling apparel products that are on the market are not specifically made for people living with medical disorders, but instead for people who may become overheated working in factories or on construction sites," explains Bradley Dunn '15 (industrial design). "Our cooling vest has unique features that were requested by people living with MS, including its ability to be virtually invisible under clothing and extremely lightweight. And it's very comfortable."
The award-winning company has already made an impact in entrepreneurship ecosystem. In 2015, ThermApparel won second place in RIT's Tiger Tank competition and second place in the Effective Access Technology Conference product competition. In 2016, the company was a student achievement finalist at the Digital Rochester GREAT Awards and won the Al Sigl Award at Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival. In 2017, the company took second place at the Rochester Venture Challenge.
"We started the company because we just didn't want to see this go on the shelf as a student project that never became anything," said Kracke. "We see ourselves as problem solvers, and we started this business to help people once again experience the joys of outdoor life."