Entrepreneurs Design Backpack For Kids On The Spectrum

WOODBURY, Minn. – The Nesel Pack got a big thumbs up from Liam Craig, a third-grader at Bailey Elementary School.

“It was comfy, but it does need (to be) a little softer on the straps,” Craig said. “If it would change to a fleece, it would be much better.”

Liam, 9, is on the autism spectrum and craves sensory stimulation, like a weighted vest or a bear hug. Recently, Liam tested the Nesel Pack, a specialized backpack being developed by student entrepreneurs at the University of Minnesota for kids on the spectrum.

The Nesel Pack (a play on the word “nestle”) has thick straps and weighted pouches to mimic a compression vest and help with body awareness. There are clips on the front to attach sensory toys like chewies and fidgets.

“The biggest thing is my son Liam really does need sensory stimulation all throughout the day, and having the extra wide straps is going to be huge for him,” said Josh Craig. “I like the robustness of it and the clips on the front for chewies and that sort of thing – things that would be dropped seconds after they’re given to my kid that shouldn’t go in his mouth when they’re dirty.”

The security strap on the back helps, too. “Liam has been known to be a runner when he’s nervous or overwhelmed,” Craig said. “So, having that extra handle to grab to keep him safe is a huge benefit, too.”

The team of six Carlson School of Management seniors behind the Nesel Pack came up with the idea in a class.

At first, Martha Pietruszewski, CEO of Nesel Packs, just wanted to make a backpack for her Entrepreneurship in Action class, where students start a business. With time, the idea evolved into a specialized tool that looks like an ordinary backpack.

Will Radke, Nesel’s chief relations officer, was quick to join the team. When Radke was in eighth grade, his parents decided to open their home to foster children. Over a decade, the family hosted almost 30 kids, Radke said.

“I wasn’t even thinking about disabilities as much as foster kids,” Radke said. “Everything they had had been taken away. We wanted to make a backpack that would be like a security blanket.

“Obviously, this is a whole different scenario, but the idea of having something that comforts you, wherever you are, is what I was thinking,” he said.

To read the rest of this article, published in Disability Scoop, please click here.