Nicole Cuervo and her grandmother, Rose, had a special relationship.
Originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Cuervo and her mother moved to Miami, Florida, in 2002. Shortly after, Cuervo’s grandmother moved a couple of blocks away. They often spent their summers together, passing the time by baking, talking, and playing cards; but as her grandmother aged, her arthritis and osteoporosis worsened. Upon realizing that her grandmother’s bras didn’t fit properly — and were even causing her pain — Cuervo was eager to find a solution.
“She was uncomfortable and had these deep grooves in her shoulder from where the bra straps dug in over time,” Cuervo recalls. “It was challenging for her to put it on; working with those tiny little clasps caused her pain.”
With hopes of finding a suitable bra for her grandmother, Cuervo went shopping. Unfortunately, everything she found was either unattractive, not adaptive to her needs, or didn’t fit her properly.
Frustrated at the lack of options for older women, Cuervo took the matter into her own hands. She interviewed several women aged 75 to 95 in her grandmother’s exercise class and realized that they each faced similar challenges. Armed with the motivation to find these women a better alternative, Cuervo came up with the idea for what is now Springrose: a line of adaptive, attractive, and comfortable bras designed specifically for women suffering from arthritis, stroke paralysis, nerve damage, rotator cuff injuries, stiff shoulders, and other upper mobility restrictions.
WHY NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY?
Cuervo chose the name Springrose to remember her grandmother, who passed away in 2016, and to denote youth, health, and vitality. “A lot of products and advertising in the U.S. are not geared towards women over 50,” she says. “And those that are tend to be ageist. There’s no reason why once women turn 50 they become invisible in society.”
With her idea in mind, in 2020 Cuervo applied and was accepted into Northwestern University’s MMM program, a dual MBA and MS in Design Innovation between the Kellogg School of Management and the McCormick School of Engineering. Since then, she’s built a team of four, received nearly $45K in funding from the university, and will be competing in the school’s VentureCat competition this month with $150,000 in prize money.
“I want to get Springrose to a place where any product that is available to an able-bodied woman is available to the rest of the population that isn’t able-bodied, whether through injury, illness, or accident,” she says. “I don’t think pain should be a normal, expected thing for women to experience. I want our products and community to make that better.”
Following her Bachelor of Arts in business and entrepreneurship at Brown University, Cuervo worked as a customer strategy and applied design consultant at Deloitte. There, she and her team focused on human centered design work — a qualitative research methodology grounded in empathy — for both state government and non-profit clients. Inspired by this approach to design, Cuervo was keen to learn more. Plus, with the Springrose idea starting a fire inside her, getting her master’s seemed like the perfect next step. “I wanted to be part of a program that would not only help me further refine my skills in human centred design, but would also put me in the same cohort as people who value empathy and creativity.”
Cuervo entered Northwestern’s MMM program already with a business idea. By using the school’s ample resources and support, she was able to bring it to fruition.
“Anytime I talk to a prospective student, I tell them that they don’t have to have an idea when they start the program. There’s a ton of resources and spaces available at the university to come up with an idea and find other people who can help build it,” she says. “But for me, already having an idea made it easier to recruit, meet people, and talk to faculty who focused on entrepreneurship. Having a concrete idea made is easier to determine where to invest my time and energy.”
Cuervo credits her ability to build her team to the incredible student community at Northwestern. Through events and classes, she was able to recruit three members: Courtney Weldon, Natalie Coletta, and Hans Rojas. “I love my team, and they’re incredibly diverse,” she says.
Cuervo’s teammates each connect with the Springrose mission: they all have someone in their lives that are over 50 and have health implications. “Everybody is motivated because the Springrose mission feels personal,” she says.
Once the team was built, the next step was to design the bras. They did so by interviewing women one-on-one and creating a base design from their human centered research process. Cuervo says that these conversations helped her team understand what women want in a product, what their pain points are, and where they’re currently shopping to inform their decision-making process. They even asked them to describe their dream bra and exactly what they wanted to see.
Next, the team hired a freelance fashion designer from Argentina with over 20 years of experience to improve the original design. Together, they landed on three designs for the first Springrose collection: one for mobility, one for dexterity, and one that’s a combination of the two.
Then, it was time for pattern design and manufacturing at a facility owned by one of the team’s mentors in Egypt. According to Cuervo, they’re taking sustainability seriously and are committed to ethical manufacturing “We’re a social benefit corporation registered out of Delaware. Part of our social mission is not only to create adaptive clothing for people with limited mobility, but also to manufacture ethically. We’re trying to look into recyclable nylon fabrics for the products.”
In order to ensure they’re creating a product that women are satisfied with, they’ve ordered product samples and are shipping them to women across the country who have volunteered to try them on and provide feedback. This will help them narrow down their designs, according to Cuervo. “We believe the more brains on the problem, the better,” she says.