Most college students earn their degrees and hope all their hard academic work pays off after graduation. Perhaps Spencer Janning is an overachiever. He’s making a life-changing impact while in college as an entrepreneur. With a child’s mobility needs in mind, Spencer created a new support brace in his mechanical engineering class at the University of Dayton (UD).
It all started in 2016 when Utawna Leap walked in to Janning’s classroom with her daughter, Lianna Bryant, whose cerebral palsy impacted her sleep. The spastic movements of her legs made her limbs jump and cross over each other throughout the night, movement that could cause hip problems in the future. The brace she used at the time kept her legs apart, but proved to be too restrictive for rest. She desperately needed a more versatile option that granted safe, comfortable movement for her legs while apart. The UD teaching staff challenged the mechanical engineering students to develop product ideas with better functionality.
Janning’s concept came together within a week and Lianna declared to like his plan the most of all. From there, additional designs became a collaborative effort between him, Lianna, her mother and her physical therapist. The final product was named the Freedom Brace, a plastic hip abductor that lets a child’s legs move horizontally and vertically while the limbs stay apart on a bed. When Lianna tried the first prototype, she loved it so much that she’s refused to wear her old brace ever since! Check out this video to see Lianna in action:
Lianna’s new brace was made through 3D printing with the help of UD’s School of Engineering. Janning has continued development using printers from his own company, Freedom Brace LLC. He’s also worked to obtain a patent for the brace, register it with the FDA and use skills from business mentors through Leonardo Enterprises, a business incubator of the School of Engineering. When the brace succeeds on a larger scale, Janning plans to speed up production using injection molding, a process where a machine shoots liquid plastic into a metal mold of the device. Approximately 19 million people across the globe could benefit from this design.
The experience of directly changing someone’s life has helped Janning appreciate his education in a new way. “Before this class, I never knew that this was a problem people faced. Seeing how something I can create can benefit the lives of other people… it’s really made a difference. I never would have learned that in school if it weren’t for Lianna and her mother coming in and showing the problems they faced. I’m really glad I was able to help them,” he said.
Janning hasn’t decided what he’ll do after graduation, but he’s considering the medical and aerospace fields since his educational concentration is in aerospace engineering. Either way, he hopes to inspire others with the mindset his parents instilled in him: “Anyone can do this kind of thing—make something to help other people—you just have to keep working on it and not be afraid to make a mistake.”