A group of University of Minnesota students invented a product this year to help individuals on the autism spectrum excel in the classroom. Developed through the Carlson School’s Entrepreneurship in Action course, the Nesel Pack helps students with autism cope with the unique challenges of attending school.

The student entrepreneurs designed the Nesel Pack backpack to ease anxiety and provide comfort to the user—like a wearable security blanket. With its broad shoulder straps and weighted pouches, it fits like a compression vest, but looks like any other backpack.

The co-founders crowdfunded more than $35,000 to bring the one-of-a-kind backpack to market. Since launching this spring, they have generated more than $10,000 in sales. Now led by two of the original co-founders (Martha Pietruszewski, ’16 BSB; and Jake Portra, ’16 BSB), the start-up is fulfilling orders from hundreds of families: Nearly 400 students will kick off the school year wearing their new Nesel Packs this fall.

“I’m really proud to be a part of a strong community and to be able to help as many families as possible,” says Pietruszewski, CEO of Nesel Packs. 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 Packs was originally founded by Pietruszewski; Portra; Rosebert Altianas, ’16 BIS; Cole McCloskey, ’16 BSB; Larry Lorbiecki, ’16 BS B; and Will Radke, ’16 B A. 

This story originally appeared in the Carlson School alumni magazine. For more on students, faculty and alumni, read the latest issue.