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November 2, 2015

University alumni invent an under-the-desk elliptical machine

Cubii, an under-the-desk elliptical designed by recent UChicago graduates, will be shipped to Kickstarter backers later this month.

As fourth-years in the College, Arnav Dalmia (A.B. ’13), Ryota Sekine (A.B. ’13), and Shivani Jain (A.B.  ’13) undertook a business endeavor to address the prevalence of physical inactivity in today’s workplace.

The classmates’ work experiences, which they gained from internships, combined with Dalmia’s interest in health encouraged them to increase workplace activity.

The trio consequently worked to create an unobtrusive exercise device through experimentation and self-study. According to Dalmia, despite its lack of a dedicated engineering faculty, UChicago provided many engineering resources.

The inventors first gained success in 2013 when they earned second place in UChicago’s New Venture Challenge. The New Venture Challenge is an opportunity for student entrepreneurs to present and gain support for their business ideas. According to Jain, the competition gave them the resources to further develop and refine Cubii. 

“It really gave us not just that initial push but a way to try our product out,” Jain said. “Of course, the first competition we took part in through UChicago. We got second place and that’s how we first got validation and a great network of inventors and advisers who even today have been helping us.”

The team continues to consult with a vast network of UChicago professionals and thinks Chicago’s entrepreneurial environment played a part in Cubii’s success.

“When we started the company, it was a time when a lot of new companies were coming up in Chicago, and now there’s a huge network,” Jain said. “While there’s competition, everyone just wants to help each other. That’s also one of the reasons why we, without any professional proficiency in engineering, could self-learn and not make some of the mistakes that others might make.”

In June of 2014, the inventors decided to crowd-fund their project, launching a Kickstarter campaign. The campaign ultimately raised nearly $300,000 and gained the support of over 1,000 backers.

“It was not just about the money raised,” Dalmia said. “It was essential that we had a good public response and that people would buy the product. I would rather us have 1,000 backers who contribute $100 than a single investor contributing $300,000.”

Now, over 18 months later, Cubii has around 1,500 pre-orders, which will ship in mid-November. Many companies have expressed interest in implementing the product in their workplaces.

Over the next few months, the focus will remain on product manufacturing and building the company.

According to Jain, the three inventors are not finished tackling the problem of workplace inactivity. “We are actually planning on coming up with a few more ideas and new ways we can integrate exercise into people’s lives.”

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