At just 14 years old, Olivia Washburn, a ninth grader at the American Heritage School, already has a head start on solving an important problem. Her invention, the Noisy NICU Cap, protects premature newborn babies from auditory damage.
When Washburn learned that more than 70 percent of babies in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) are exposed to unsafe noise effects, she wanted to create a solution. After intensive testing, Washburn created a hat that combined silicone, cardstock, a wool-cotton blend and foam to facilitate acoustic attenuation. Washburn, who was born prematurely herself, utilized her love of engineering to design this simple but elegant product. Her removable, washable and adjustable design keeps infants warm while also protecting their underdeveloped auditory systems, preventing future problems like hearing loss and learning disabilities. Washburn says people contacted her about the product before she even started marketing.
In March, Washburn competed in the 2019 High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge, hosted by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute and sponsored by Zions Bank. This challenge gives young students the opportunity to win prize money, connect with fellow students and present their ideas to a panel of distinguished judges. Washburn won the $7,000 grand prize after competing against 20 finalists.
Washburn said the HSUEC was a valuable experience: she was “able to start her business plan and further this project, able to make many connections and learned how to present.” The cash prize will help Washburn to further grow her startup. She wants to send the Noisy NICU cap to 100 mothers of premature babies for feedback and is currently applying for two patents for her design ideas. She also hopes to raise money for further development and marketing, and plans on using Kickstarter to raise money for operating capital. While it is not on the market yet, Washburn is confident her Noisy NICU Cap will soon “be available in every hospital in America.”