A Red River High School student is among the top contenders at the DECA International Career Development Conference held virtually this spring. The conference included 17,000 members and councillors.
Sudiksha Singhal has designed a brace less than a centimeter in diameter that could help prevent pain from braces that sting and cut the insides of cheeks and lips.
Singhal, who will be a junior this fall, was named a finalist in the Entrepreneurship Independent Business Plan Event and is among the 15% of competitors who won an International Medallion of Excellence as an overall finalist.
DECA, short for Distributive Education Clubs of America, is a professional and technical student organization that prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs interested in careers in marketing, finance, hospitality, and management.
Singhhal, 16, knows firsthand how painful or irritating braces can be. She has had braces for four years, she said. “It’s something that’s been a huge problem for me, because my mouth is a bit sensitive.”
“When you first get your suspenders on, they really hurt,” she said. The protruding metal edges make cuts that “usually take up to two weeks to heal.” The discomfort repeats with each adjustment.
She designed a small ring, which she said would be made of a soft, rubbery material and placed on each bracket on the tooth, and drew up a business plan with the help of employees at the Innovation Center of the UND.
A dentist and family friend who practices in Toronto told Singhal that his device is new and nothing like it is currently available, said his father, Sandeep Singhal.
Sudiksha Singhal has taken steps to start a business, which she has registered with the state of North Dakota, and is working with orthodontists to develop the device. She has a provisional utility patent for the device and expects to obtain “a design patent, as well as a full utility patent, in the coming year,” she said. His business plan focuses on marketing to customers, primarily dentists, rather than the end consumer.
“Orthodontics is a really competitive field,” so being able to offer this solution to patients would give orthodontists a competitive edge, she said.
In this area, there are other answers to this problem, she says.
“The main solution that orthodontists like to use is called orthodontic wax, and it works to some extent, but it’s not a way to prevent injury; it’s more a way of giving the wound time to heal. It’s also very difficult to manage, so if you don’t do it exactly right, it won’t fit properly – so there are a lot of downsides.
Singhal hopes to eventually take her idea to the clinical trial stages to eliminate any potential harm, she said.
Her efforts to pioneer the idea began in an engineering class led by Ryan Moldenhauer, who challenged students to pursue a product improvement or development project, she said. Then she pushed the project through DECA and received support from DECA advisers Dustin Norby and Brent Pollum, she said.
Moldenhauer “was really helpful,” she said, especially in constructing images of her design.
In her class, Singhal was exposed to the design process, Moldenhauer said.
In the portfolio she created for the competition, “her whole process of explaining how she came to her idea is very well laid out,” Moldenhauer said. “It’s one thing to have an idea or identify a problem and create a solution. But it’s another thing to show off all of your work that goes into it. And I think that’s what impressed me the most.
“She laid out not just the problem, but the problem behind the problem and potential solutions. I think there were even manufacturing costs,” he said. “It’s a legitimate solution. It’s not like a band-aid type fix or initial idea; it’s a well fleshed out idea.
Tyler Sletten, consultant entrepreneur, and Annie Nistler, intern and law student, who work at the UND Innovation Center, also mentored Singhal and helped her secure a grant from InnovateND, a program of the Department of North Dakota Commerce, to obtain a provisional patent.
“Singhal is the youngest person I have worked with and possibly the youngest to ever be admitted to the InnovateND program,” Sletten said. Although she is young, “her business idea in itself is excellent”.
“A major element of the InnovateND program is the customer discovery process, in which customers are required to validate their market fit by going out and talking with potential buyers to see where the gaps in the market are,” said Sletten. “Sudiksha immediately saw the value of the process and used the discovery to benefit his project and his business.”
Nistler was very impressed with “Singhal’s drive and ambition to bring the project to fruition,” she said. “(She) takes the time to do relevant research and isn’t afraid to ask questions when she needs a second opinion. Her age is not holding her back yet and she has a very bright future ahead of her, both in her business and in her personal life.
This is not the first recognition Singhal has received in DECA-sponsored competitions.
She also competed and won first place in her category at the Spring 2020 virtual DECA conference, but the national competition was canceled due to the pandemic, she said.
Last spring in Bismarck, she participated in the state conference in person before qualifying for the international competition.
As she contemplates her future, Singhal said pursuing a career in business “is not an immediate goal”, she said. “I would like to have an established career with a job first. But it is my dream to eventually own my own business and be financially independent that way.