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Abilities Expo: Real-world Experience 

By Dan Lenzen, director of design and innovation
Entrepreneurs demonstrated their inventions and received feedback from their target audience.
The Upper School Design to Entrepreneurship class traveled to the Los Angeles Convention Center on March 7 and 8, to showcase their projects at the Abilities Expo. The event, known as “The event for the disability community,” drew over 7,500 visitors, and students managed one of the 193 exhibitor booths.

This is part of an ongoing partnership with the Helen Bernardy Center, Rady Children’s Hospital to develop products for the students who live and spend time there. The Bernardy students’ teachers challenged our entrepreneurs to develop interactive toys and multi-sensory stimulation that would encourage the students to move and play. 

Thanks to LJCDS parents Heather and Mark Wills P’36, who offered a boot camp on pitching products at a professional show, students were well prepared. They demonstrated their professionalism and confidence by engaging with a diverse range of individuals, including potential users, occupational and physical therapists, students, parents, teachers, and other business professionals from Southern California and Northern Mexico. They not only gathered valuable feedback but also tested the products with passersby, and developed a comprehensive list of potential customers.

ChromoPad, created by Marcus Heppner ’25 and engineered by Ariana Ludwig ’26, was one of the biggest hits. Their silicone rubber “texture mats” provide interesting tactile experiences while being easy to sanitize. Teachers of people with all abilities were interested in the toys, some of which come in various colors and even include thermochromic pigment that changes colors as it warms up from body heat.

Back on campus, student entrepreneurs will pitch to the Torrey Explorers Fund for additional funding to continue prototyping and then manufacturing their products internationally. Grades 7 and 8 students in the Product Design and Advanced Innovation electives are now working with the Upper School students to create 3D-printed molds for new versions of the ChromoPad.

Student attendees
Luke Graham ’26
Ella Hong ’26
Marcus Heppner ’25
Angie Hu ’26
Ariana Ludwig ’26
Laila Mirkazemi ’24
Sofia Montano ’26
Sua Namkung ’26
Ellie Pons ’25

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