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Startup Luna Lights headed to Cupid's Cup finals

National entrepreneurship challenge takes place March 30 at Northwestern
Luna Lights team
Luna Lights team members Donovan Morrison, Stephen Jensen and Matt Wilcox.

Every year, half of all assisted-living residents suffer a fall, the leading cause of injury and death for older adults. Up to 40 percent of assisted-living falls happen at night, when residents struggle with navigating in the dark and there are fewer staff members on hand. Those lucky enough to survive a fall are often faced with long-term physical and emotional trauma. The medical costs for falls among America’s seniors can reach more than $30 billion annually.

Northwestern engineering alumni Matthew Wilcox ’14, ’14 CERT and Donovan Morrison ’14 (and former team member Wesley Youman ’15, ’15 CERT) developed a solution. Their product, Luna Lights, uses an ultra-thin bed sensor and a lighting system to illuminate a pathway to the bathroom or bedroom door when a user leaves his or her bed.

The system can also alert caregivers if a resident does not return to bed. Wilcox and Morrison have recently developed a cloud-based, predictive analytics platform that tracks nightly activity and uses the data to help doctors recognize underlying conditions.

$30 billion
Annual medical costs for falls among American seniors.

During recent pilot studies, “we were able to report falls to the staff within the communities, and they were able to help those residents within a couple of minutes rather than hours or longer, potentially the whole night,” says Wilcox.

“We track a number of different things related to the nightly activity of individuals,” he added, “such as how often or how long people are up. As you start to look at those metrics over time, you can really see that you might be able to find some correlation with people’s overall health. Maybe someone’s getting up more often because they have a urinary tract infection or some other issue. So the goal is to be able to flag that type of information for caregivers so that they can follow up with residents before those issues become worse.”

On Monday, Feb. 6, Luna Lights was named a finalist for Cupid’s Cup, an entrepreneurship competition started by Under Armour founder Kevin Plank. Northwestern will host the finals March 30 at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. Luna Lights also participated in the 2015 Northwestern University Venture Challenge, where they won the undergrad division and social enterprise track.

Luna Lights spent much of 2016 doing low-volume piloting, which provided the founders with some encouraging insights, in addition to their first full-time customer, Lake Forest Place in Lake Forest, Ill. After finishing a full round of fundraising last summer, Luna Lights ramped up manufacturing and in November completed its second installation at an assisted living community, Friendship Manor, in Rock Island, Ill.

Luna Lights, now based in Chicago’s Loop, started as a Design for America project, and Wilcox and Morrison (and data scientist Stephen Jensen, a postdoctoral research scientist at Northwestern from 2013 to 2016) have relied on mentors in the University’s alumni network to help with the complexities of starting a business. Much of their early support came from former DFA mentor Billy Banks ’98, now the associate director of The Garage at Northwestern.

“He was pretty instrumental in helping us think through how we would actually transition from just having a concept into a business — who we would be selling to, what our market would look like, and how we could effectively start the business,” says Morrison. “He has been a valuable mentor — and now investor — of ours since we founded the business.”

Now Wilcox and Morrison are looking to expand Luna Lights to other senior communities throughout the Chicagoland area and beyond. They also hope to have a consumer-ready model in 2018. 

- Zach Basu is an editorial intern for Northwestern magazine.