Lilu team wins iDesign Prize for developing automated breast-pumping bra

A team of Penn graduate students has won the Second Annual iDesign Prize Competition for its novel invention—an automated pumping bra—walking away with a $50,000 check to help launch the innovative product design venture.

Established last year by Penn’s Integrated Product Design Master’s Program and the School of Design, the Prize nurtures the next generation of leaders in the field and promotes the design of physical objects that solve a real-world problem.

This year’s contest was held on April 25 in Meyerson Hall. Team Lilu was among five finalists, narrowed from a field of 31 competitors who pitched their products to a jury of leading designers, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists. Selection criteria included the quality of the holistic designs, engineering, and business plans.

“The Lilu team presented an innovative solution to a very clear problem,” says Sarah Rottenberg, associate director of the Integrated Product Design Program. “The team demonstrated real understanding of the needs of women who use breast pumps and has the skills required to develop a product that meets those needs.”

The technologically advanced undergarment, Lilu, addresses the concerns of nursing mothers who pump their breast milk in the workplace.

“They face the heart-wrenching decision between their own professional advancement and the well-being of their child,” says Alexandra Looney, one of three second-year master’s students on the team who are graduating from the Integrated Product Design Program, a collaboration of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, PennDesign, and the Wharton School.

Looney says, “To produce enough milk for their baby, a nursing mother returning to work after maternity leave incorporates breast pumping sessions of up to 45 minutes per session into a work day.” This is why, according to the American Journal of Public Health, mothers who work outside the home are two times more likely to quit breastfeeding in the month returning to work than their stay-at-home counterparts.

The Lilu bra helps breast-pumping moms multitask while expressing breast milk with their existing breast pump. It also increases the efficiency of pumping as well as milk output to create a virtually hands-free pumping experience.

Clementine Gilbert and Adriana Vazquez are the other Lilu team members from the Integrated Product Design Program. Sujay Suresh, a second-year master’s degree candidate in Penn Engineering, rounds out the team. He brings his interest in medical devices and electrical engineering knowledge to enrich the team’s expertise in material design, user research, and software development.

Playing with the floral iconography of the product, the team chose the name Lilu from a mash-up of “lily” and “lule,” which means flower in Albanian. The name is also a departure from the Greek god and goddess names of current breast pumps on the market (Gala, Naya, Hygieia, etc.)

The team received invaluable feedback and advising from more than 650 mothers and from medical doctors, a board of lactation consultants, and a certified professional from Solutions for Women, a boutique breastfeeding product store at Pennsylvania Hospital.

By summer’s end, Team Lilu expects to have a more robust design prototype. Based on the complexity of the product and manufacturing timelines, the team expects the product to be in the market by early 2018.

For more information about the iDesign Prize, visit the PennDesign website.

iDesign Prize