Creating hard things.
That's the neat slogan for The Melt, billed as the nation's first fully integrated accelerator and hardware prototyping lab, located on the shores of Lake Macquarie in Newcastle.
It is a slogan that 25-year-old Katherine Kawecki, one of the first entrepreneurs to work at The Melt, has lived and breathed for the past three months.
The industrial design graduate has travelled weekly from her Sydney home to The Melt to improve her prototype for her potentially game-changing device Respia.
Having been hospitalised at the age of four for asthma, Ms Kawecki dedicated her final year university project to developing a product she thought was missing in the health market.
Respia is wearable technology for asthma detection and focuses on being proactive rather than reactive to asthma, using machine-learning technology to monitor a person with asthma.
"It's a sealable patch, it sits on the chest and like a stethoscope it listens for oncoming signs of asthma," she says.
"It's unique because there is nothing you can buy right now on the market that will monitor your child's asthma. What parents do is buy baby monitors for kids aged 0-3 but ironically you can't diagnose asthma until 3-5, so parents are using a bandaid solution for something that requires a tailored solution to asthma."
Ms Kawecki's decision to start developing a prototype was driven by her belief that there is no asthma management system in existence.
"We are buying Fitbits and Apple watches and they can tell you anything if you are stressed, your heart rate, or a message from someone but there's no-one that tells you if you or your child will have an asthma attack or if your lungs are showing signs of inflammation," she says.
She says her participation in The Melt's pilot program at the invitation of its founder, Trent Bagnall, sped up the development of her protoptype "three-fold".
The Melt's state-of-the-art labs offer two streams of hardware development.
For startups, it offers an accelerator program with funding, tools and services to help entrepreneurs build products.
For corporates, it offers a R&D service helping them speed up their innovation and get products to market quicker.
Ms Kawecki says Mr Bagnall's big picture approach was inspired.
"Trent approached me and said, 'Hi Kat, we really need a hardware program for Australia, China has their own in Hax, the US has Plug and Play [Tech Centre], Australia really needs its own," she recalls.
"I love that Trent figured this out - the reason people don't like hardware is expensive and hard to get right, but if you do it can make a big impact."
Ms Kawecki had been tinkering on a prototype with co-founder Christian Reeks for close to two years before The Melt helped her trouble-shoot and enhance it.
"The Melt gave me a team of senior and experienced engineers of all backgrounds - electrical, data science, software - and a senior industrial designer and a mechanical engineer and business assistance, but mostly the technical things," she says.
"I would be at The Melt or we'd do video calls each week or every fortnight, and we'd go through technical challenges, my designs, they would do their own sometimes and we'd go through this cycle to get a final kind of solution to the problem that we are trying to address."
With the assistance of the Warners Bay lab, Respia is making its prototype more robust before it hopes to start clinical trials at Westmead Children's Hospital as early as January.
"Creating a device for a pre-market pilot clinical trial is very different to the device that you will eventually put into the market," says Ms Kawecki.
"[We have] the vision of the final product. The outside skin will change, we'll redesign it to make it nicer."
Making progress has been rewarding considering Ms Kawecki's suffered frightening asthma attacks as a child.
"You don't remember too much at four but I do remember the day of my first attack, it was bizarre, I was walking around the floor of my parents bedroom, trying to get on their bed, I remember crying, I didn't know why," she says.
"My parents were confused, eventually my dad clued in, because he has asthma, and we went to the GP and they were like oh my gosh, you have to get to the hospital, and I stayed there two weeks."
Respia is now looking to raise seed funding before embarking on clinical trials, including in the USA, where it will seek approval from the Food and Drug Administration to be able to get it to market.
She expects the whole process to take about two years to get Respia to market.
"I think that respiratory monitoring in children is just scraping the first application of our proprietary platform technology - there are so many other applications it could be used for," she says.
"With the help of The Melt, Respia will be the next ResMed [a device aiding breathing and sleep] of Australia and the world."
While you're with us, did you know the Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news -sign up here
IN NEWS TODAY
- Fire risk cancels NSW music festival Lost Paradise
- Police seize guns, drugs as Comancheros member and associates raided at Wyee
- Man extradited from South Australia over alleged child sex abuse in Hunter
- Seven new F-35 Lightning II aircraft arrive at Williamtown
- New sports centre to be built in Lake Macquarie, Myuna Bay to be dozed