Choosing to age in a place of one’s own choice could be hard for the elderly. There are several considerations — home maintenance, neighborhood safety, transportation — but most importantly, personal care.
Having witnessed their elder family members struggle with performing personal care, Stony Brook student Joshua Zhu and his partner Jialin Ke created Soulo, a long-handled motorized nail trimmer as a solution.
According to a survey by Pew Research Center, almost half of America’s older adults age 60 and older live alone, which is far higher than the global average. While living alone can be good for older people’s mental health by giving them a sense of control and purpose, it can also be risky and inconvenient. At some point, most older adults need assistance performing daily tasks, from driving to grocery stores to maintaining personal hygiene.
The three-year-old startup was co-founded in 2018 by Zhu, who is currently a Stony Brook medical school student, and his high school classmate Ke, a UX designer at Ernst & Young. The startup won the grand prize at the annual New York State Business Plan Competition in May after winning the school and regional level of the same competition.
For people with limited mobility like older adults, trimming nails, especially toenails, can be a challenging task. Deteriorating vision and decreased muscle strength can prevent them from doing what used to be a routine self-care task.
“Trimming toenails was something we’ve never thought of…it’s so niche,” Zhu said. “But the more people we talk to, the more we realize it is a very prominent and common problem among older adults without a very accessible or practical solution.”
To cater to the needs of its targeted group, the team came up with a design that is unseen in other nail clippers.
Powered by a battery, the Soulo Nail Trimmer includes an LED light for illumination and provides three different sizes of filing caps for users. It also comes with a 20 inch adjustable extension arm so that users can trim nails without bending down. To ensure safety, the trimmer uses a rotating grinding mechanism to replace the traditional clipping method. The team is also experimenting with a magnifying glass on the latest prototype.
Zhihui Hou, a sophomore communication major at Stony Brook, says the product is suitable for people with limited mobility after viewing the product on its website. “I may not necessarily buy it for my grandparents because they are still quite agile, but for those who are disabled or with limited mobility, it could work well,” Hou said.
In comparison to the traditional clippers, Soulo comes with a more advanced technology and modern design. However, it remains simple enough for ordinary people to operate easily.
“Our product does not necessarily use anything super fancy in terms of AI or sensors, but we do co-design with our target audience,” Ke said.
Family plays an important role in prompting the idea as both founders extend their care for their grandparents onto the product design.
“I actually interviewed all of my grandparents,” Ke said. “My grandma literally told me that she uses scissors to cut her nails and sometimes she just bleeds.”
Shocked by the fact that elderly needs have been ignored for far too long, Ke went on to explore solutions for elder people to age in place, as well as to alleviate the stress of family caretakers.
“[For elder adults], the reliance [on other people to care for them] could be dangerous, especially during Covid,” Ke added, “and people who are taking care of their grandparents, parents and children are also really stressed.”
Zhu also shares a special bond with his grandparents, who fully support and appreciate their grandson despite being out of the country, and wants to give back for all they’ve done.
“[My grandparents] gave us our independence when we were younger – like they taught me how to tie my shoes and brush my teeth when my parents weren’t necessarily there – I always wanted to give back to them for that,” Zhu said.
Formerly named PediCure, the trimmer prototype first blossomed in 2018 when the two high school friends collaborated in an “aging in place” design competition at Cornell University.
Ke, then a design major at Cornell University, recruited Zhu, who was then a pre-med track student, along with two other college friends with industrial design and biomedical engineering backgrounds.
The team has since been rebranded as Soulo in 2021 with a broader vision to “design a line of devices to empower everyone to take care of their bodies independently.”
After launching a testing round at the beginning of this year, Ke and Zhou have made improvements and released a new version. The trimmer is set to land on Kickstarter in late August.