UNB student finds inspiration in hard times, launches invention
220 prototypes later, 22-year-old's invention is expected to begin shipping this spring.
Curtis Kennedy spent four years of his life in hospital or bedridden because of a rare form of cancer.
"That was a pretty tough go for me and my family," said the 22-year-old who had his last chemotherapy treatment as a high school senior in January 2015.
But he sees his recovery from lymphoma and leukaemia not as wasted time but as "constructive adversity."
In the last two years, while studying at the University of New Brunswick, he developed, designed and began manufacturing a wall-mounted massage tool that he hopes will make people's lives a little bit less painful.
"Every day, you learn through something like that, is really a gift," said the 22-year-old. "Getting to be able to walk with strength, being able to eat. Being able to see.
"I knew after very a really long time spent in hospital beds that if and when I made it out of there, that I would try to spend every day the way I wanted to spend it. As kind of thinking as if it were your last in a way."
Inspired by personal experience
Kennedy was struck with the idea for his invention during his first year at UNB in 2015.
He's had sore muscles since he was a child, and he used to try to relieve the pain by lying on a golf ball and rolling out the tense areas. But that was uncomfortable and he didn't have enough control. So he thought there has to be a better way.
He started perfecting the Vertiball, a plastic ball that can be mounted on any household wall using a suction cup. It stays stationary as a person moves their back and shoulder muscles over it, alleviating tension.
For two years he worked with different UNB programs and mentors, designers and manufacturers in China. He went through 220 different prototypes and funded his work by placing in national and international pitch competitions and applying for government grants.
Last week, Kennedy launched the product, which will be manufactured by Bouctouche Bay Industries, the province's only plastic injection moulding company.
"People are quick to leave New Brunswick and go to bigger cities. But I think a lot of people overlook the power that exists in New Brunswick because, as a province, we're so connected," he said.
Seth Barkhouse met Kennedy at UNB and they became close friends. Barkhouse was working on a project of his own, but after he sold it, he started working on marketing Vertiball with Kennedy.
"There's certain types of people I find that just have a way about them… it's hard to explain," he said.
"I would say just the sincerity of wanting to do good … wanting to genuinely make an impact in people's life, wanting them to be freed essentially from pain that they have from tense muscles, like that's actually his purpose."
Barkhouse said the company launched a Kickstarter campaign and reached their goal of over $8,000 in the first few hours. With 480 backers, and $22,000 pledged, Barkhouse said he sees a bright future for the tool, which could start shipping out this spring.
"It means that [tense muscles] is a bigger problem than just one that Curtis has," he said, "which is a really cool thing for him to put this much effort and through his process of 220 designs. He did that many because he was talking to potential customers to see if that's something people wanted."
Kennedy said this project is "just the beginning." He said eventually he wants to develop technology to help protect the planet from climate change.
"My hope is that all this time and effort that I've put into making this thing to solve one of my own personal problems, I hope that it solves everyone else's problems in the same way," he said.