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To End Nicotine Addiction, ITI Students Create DOS
Through the Information Technology and Informatics Capstone course, followed by the Rutgers I-Corps program, a group of ITI students developed an innovative smoking cessation tool called DOS.
ITI Students Create DOS, An Innovative Product Aimed at Ending Nicotine Addiction

“DOS is the future of quitting, so if you are trying to quit, get your dose today.” Meet DOS (pronounced “dose”), an innovative vaping replacement product invented and currently being developed by a group of SC&I Information Technology and Informatics students. DOS is designed to help people quit vaping and provide them with a healthier alternative while they are focused on quitting.

How does DOS work? This ingenious vaping tool monitors the amount of nicotine the person is consuming. It has a built-in Bluetooth adaptor that syncs with an app that helps DOS vapers monitor their progression from vaping regularly to quitting. The product also enables vapers to replace the toxic oil used in standard vapes with a safer alternative oil made of clove oil and fruit extracts.

DOS was launched by SC&I students during the ITI Capstone course held last spring. Taught by Michael Doyle, teaching instructor of library and information science, the overarching topic and task for students in this Capstone class was to propose project ideas designed to help the United Nations meet its sustainability goals.

After the course ended, several of the students on the DOS team wanted to continue working on the project - so they applied to the Rutgers I-Corps program, funded by the National Science Foundation. DOS was accepted, and the students completed 17 customer discovery interviews during an intensive 4-week period last summer.

The DOS Team is divided into subteams: the business team is Chris Ahn and Johan Reyes. The pitch team is Omar Khan and Naresh Edala. The project manager is Will Papa, and the design team is Andy Lin and Arman Salam. The hardware team is Akash Singh. and Rushit Patel.

Will Papa, the DOS project manager, said, “Our whole goal for DOS is to become an interruption to the Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) market. DOS’ goal is to get and keep customers off nicotine forever. We actually don’t want customers to use our product for years. We want them to get off vaping and nicotine entirely, and DOS is designed to help them do that. Seeing their reduction of nicotine on the app will give them a boost of confidence needed to quit.”

The team’s goal is to “Create premium, healthier vapes for a better value,” and their mission statement is to “Give consumers a chance by fighting against this new wave of nicotine addiction.” They plan to sell the product at a price that will be less that the competition.

DOS will work as a three-phase plan, Papa explained. First, DOS will create a community of quitters through its website and social media. Then, the Bluetooth app that powers the vaping tool will collect data on their customers’ nicotine use. The DOS team will use this data to refine their approach to how to best help people quit smoking, and ultimately, create mass change. Then they plan to publish academic papers to change the healthcare industry.

 Papa explained that the name DOS originated when the Capstone team initially began thinking of proposing a smoking cessation NRT idea. “We wanted to come up with a name as memorable as ‘juul’ or ‘puff bar.’ We thought if our product had the word ‘vape’ in it no one would buy it if they really wanted to quit. Someone on our team then suggested the name DOSE – as in ‘dosage’ but spell it DOS. It stuck in everyone’s head very quickly,” Papa said.

Naresh Edala, a member of the DOS pitch team, Papa said, was the Capstone student who proposed the idea for DOS.  Edala h­­ad previously worked 18 hours a week as a public health intern at the Center for Tobacco Studies at Rutgers. “Our goal was to create a tobacco-free campus at Rutgers,” Edala said. “I was able to work with some amazing people there and they were very influential in terms of my growth. They are the reason I am the way I am now when it comes to nicotine and tobacco products.”

Edala said he took the ITI Capstone course because of an email he received from Papa. “I had met Will before, in a different class, but we barely knew each other. Then Will reached out to ask me if I wanted to join their Capstone team. Their goal, Will told me, was to try to solve one of the United Nations sustainability goals. I wasn’t even taking the Capstone course at the time, but as a public health major, I thought it sounded really interesting and that perhaps I could make an impact through the project.”

After discussing the idea with Papa, Edala met with Doyle. “I first met with Mike Doyle to discuss with him the idea of joining the class, and he asked me if I had any ideas the team could work on,” Edala said. “I first suggested the food desert crisis in cities. But then I started thinking about everything I was learning at the Rutgers Center for Tobacco Studies. 27% of high school sophomores use vape products. 22% of 8th graders use vaping products, and these numbers are low – they are based only on the people who report using these products.  Because the point of the Capstone to solve a UN sustainability goal, I pitched solving the vaping epidemic, and it became one of the top ideas. I think the breaking point for choosing vaping cessation, in the end, was when I sent the stats.”

Papa said Omar then ran with the idea and created the business plan. Everyone else then joined in favor of the idea once they saw the problem and the vision.

Mike Doyle, the instructor of the Capstone course and the team’s I-Corps industry mentor, said, “DOS was a very enthusiastic group. I wasn’t wild about the project when they began discussing it – it didn’t seem to me that it was something that was going to impress the judges. Honestly, I was wrong. They did a really good job with the project, even though we went to remote teaching in March.”

DOS and a few other Capstone projects were hit harder than others when the course became 100% remote in March due to COVID-19, Doyle said. DOS and a few other Capstone teams were planning to use the Rutgers Makerspace to develop the hardware prototypes for the DOS vaping pen. Because Makerspace was shut due to the pandemic, “they went after the whole notion of what they would need to do beyond the physical prototype to make DOS work. So they focused on social media, and on developing messages that might help keep kids from vaping early on. They also researched whether they should donate money or create a cause that would address that particular problem,” Doyle said.

What ultimately led the team to decide to apply to I-Corps, Edala said, was the feedback they received from the judges when they presented DOS during the ITI Showcase – the culmination of the Capstone course. He said DOS earned very glowing remarks from the showcase judges who were really enthusiastic and liked their idea for DOS.

Lori Dars, director of the NSF-Funded Innovation Corps (I-Corps) site at Rutgers, said, Through the I-Corps process, teams such as DOS begin by thinking about who their potential customers might be and what their value to those customers is. Then they gather data by interviewing potential customers and getting feedback from the I-Corps Teaching Team. During this discovery process, participants may realize that their customer segment is different than they anticipated. By the end of the four weeks, participants should have a pretty good idea of their customer segments and their value proposition. Our goal at Rutgers I-Corps is to have all the teams (we had 12 last summer) do a great job at customer discovery and then continue on to the National I-Corps program, commercialization or whatever path is appropriate for them.”

The difference between the capstone and I-Corps process, Edala said, was, “During the capstone process we were focusing on the problem, why vaping is an epidemic. But when we switched to I-Corps, it became strictly business-oriented. For me, that was different because I don’t have a business background. So it really helped me understand where we were lacking, and what we needed to change to create a legitimate business. Creating the customer segments was the easy part, even though we thought at the time it seemed really hard. Finding customers was significantly harder. We struggled to find interviews. Some people did not want to be interviewed. Some did not want to admit they were addicted to nicotine. Some people did not want to admit that they wanted to quit. Finding a diverse range of people to interview was also tough. Often times, because we are college students, we were speaking with college friends, but we wanted to speak to a more diverse demographic about DOS.”

Dars said, “The DOS team did really well in I-Corps. We were very proud of them. What I liked most about this team is that they were not married to their innovation, they listened to feedback and were very open to change. We call this ‘the pivot,’ and the DOS team was willing to pivot – something so critical in today’s ever-changing environment."

Connie Pascal, program assistant of the Information Technology and Informatics Program and an SC&I doctoral student, said, "Being a part of the Teaching Team for the I-Corps program at Rutgers is a joy and a constant reminder of how talented, creative, and hardworking our Rutgers students, alumni, and faculty are, but it's especially exciting to see our ITI students involved in innovation and start-ups – especially start-ups like DOS – teams who are focused on helping people improve their health and kick dangerous habits.”

In terms of looking forward and planning their next steps for DOS, Edala said, “We have a product idea, and now we have customer research. Our next step is creating the product itself. Without Makerspace we haven’t had the resources to put anything together, but after we can get into Makerspace and create a prototype we can then create the marketing and advertising for it and begin to spread awareness.”

Offering advice to Rutgers students who might want to take the capstone course and then pursue Rutgers I-Corps, Naresh said, “Don’t do this with your friends. It’s a grueling process. It’s a lot of work, and you need to have tough conversations with the people you work with, and you might not be able to do that with friends. Really use capstone as an opportunity to branch out and meet different people. I had only met Will twice at that point. We weren’t friends yet, he was someone I knew. Now, because of capstone and Rutgers I-Corps, I have some great friends I know are trustworthy and reliable. Capstone becomes what you make of it. I also can’t give Professor Doyle enough props for all he did for us. He kept us guided.”

Watch a YouTube video created by the team to advertise the product.

More information about the Information Technology and Informatics major at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information is on the website.

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