A start-up led by University of Minnesota student entrepreneurs will soon begin manufacturing the first backpack designed for students on the autism spectrum. Developed through the Carlson School's Entrepreneurship in Action course this year, the invention helps students with autism cope with the unique challenges of attending school, and excel in the classroom. 

Nesel Pack has exceeded its initial crowdfunding goal to raise more than $35,000 to bring a one-of-a-kind backpack to market. 

The start-up's founders first set out to create a business around ordinary backpacks. But the concept evolved when Sociology major Will Radke, '16 BA, thought about the 30 children his family fostered throughout a decade of his youth. These children, some of whom had diabilities, craved the comfort of home in times of change.

With this challenge in mind, the team imagined a backpack with a special fit designed to ease anxiety and provide comfort—like a wearable security blanket.  With its broad shoulder straps and weighted pouches, the Nesel Pack fits like a compression vest, but looks like any other backpack. The pack comes with clips to attach sensory toys like chewies and fidgets, and a security strap. 

"We wouldn't have been successful and able to help so many people if it weren't for the Entre in Action class and our professor," says Lorbiecki. "We can't wait to keep staying active in the community!" 

Nessel Project participant

The student founders partnered with Fraser, a Twin Cities provider of autism services, to test initial prototypes. The pack has been well received by children and parents, and Nesel's founders are eager to get the final product into the hands of students who need them.

"I'm really proud to be apart of a strong community and to be able to help as many families as possible because of this Kickstarter," says Supply Chain & Operations and Entrepreneurial Management major Martha Pietruszewski. 

Carlson School Dean Sri Zaheer is proud to see the students apply their business education to address a pressing challenge.

"Nesel Packs is proof of the difference this school, its students, and its alumni can have in the world. These students have reminded us all how business can and should be a force for the good," says Zaheer.

Nesel Pack has received national media attention. Upworthy, ABC News, the Big Ten Network, the Star Tribune, and more have covered the start-up.