It started out as a “fun toy,” a flying disc that plays music. But when Alex Dassise, one of the inventors, tossed it to his brother Stefan, their connection fundamentally shifted.
As a child, Stefan was diagnosed with autism; he doesn’t speak. His interaction with Alex had always been severely limited. “The first time we threw it, it was amazing,” says Alex. “It was the first time of interactivity between us. We were engaged. We got to laugh, smile and dance. It was a whole new relationship.”
Alex was a senior at Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego when he and a friend, Logan Insinga, came up with the idea of the music-playing disc. When he came to the College of Business at Oregon State, Alex entered the Austin Entrepreneurship Program. With help from director Sandy Neubaum and program manager Dale McCauley, he began turning his idea into a product. He spent hours using the 3-D printing and other resources in the Weatherford Hall “maker space.” He created a company, DiscJam, pitched his idea at a venture conference in Bend and sold 50 discs to other students. He won first place and $1,000 in a “Shark Tank” competition organized by OSU and the University of Oregon.
But then Dassise discovered that the disc may offer a new avenue of communication for autistic people. “There aren’t other products that have all these features. It’s visual, because there are lights. It’s engaging and kinetic because you can throw it back and forth. It has audio,” says Alex.
Last summer, with help from the Accelerate program in the Oregon State University Advantage Accelerator, the company, now known as Seiji’s Bridge (Seiji is Stefan’s middle name), is exploring the potential for the disc to serve as a therapy tool. Dassise and his partner, Spencer Kleweno, a senior in the College of Business, are giving prototypes to therapists (speech, occupational and physical) who are testing the potential for the disc to open new avenues for communication with their clients.
“I hope this becomes a basic learning tool,” says Alex. “You could learn a language with it or learn to count. The market is anyone who needs to develop skills. There’s a lot of potential.”