iVenture student Amaury Saulsberry perfect fit to introduce President Obama
When Amaury Saulsberry—now a sophomore in the School of Art & Design and iVenture Accelerator participant—used to walk down the streets near his home on the South Side of Chicago he could see Barack Obama’s house.
As a high school student, Saulsberry noticed the Secret Service agents and the way the house was gated off. That one visual served as an encapsulation of his growth and development. The streets surrounding this home didn’t always offer Saulsberry a ton of encouragement. But, even behind gates, this house represented to him the hope and change that served as Obama’s rally cry when he was elected the 44th President of the United States of America.
From those same streets, Saulsberry grew up and developed his own words to live by.
“‘No missed opportunity,’ that’s my motto,” he said. “For so much of what I’ve done, the beginning was the hardest part. I’m the first of my family to go to college. I’m the first in my family to start my own business. Nobody I know has worked in the tech or healthcare fields.
“These aren’t things you see in my neighborhood. I just believe that if there’s something you’re passionate about, if there’s something burning inside of you—go let it out.”
This internal drive shaped so much of what Saulsberry has become.
It’s how he found the passion to create something of worth, and subsequently chose to major in Industrial Design. It’s why he earned the Illinois Promise Scholarship—which has helped ensure the affordability of higher education for students since 2005—to attend the University of Illinois. It’s why he founded a startup called Nouvo, where he is designing a pacifier that detects acid reflux in newborns. It’s why he won the Top Newcomer award last year at the Cozad New Venture Challenge. And it’s why Nouvo gained entry to Gies College of Business’ iVenture Accelerator.
“I was 11 years old when President Obama was elected, and what I remember most is watching my parents and my grandma,” Saulsberry said. “Their reaction to this black man and his family walking out on a stage while he took on the honor of being this country’s president is something I’ll never forget.
“But what a lot of people overlook is all the work it took for him to get there. With his consistency and persistence, he showed we can accomplish great things.”
Considering that amazing accomplishment, Saulsberry said he started asking a simple question: Why not me?
So when he introduced the former president, he spoke about the days in which Obama went door-to-door, wrangling votes for a state senate election.
He spoke about all the little steps it takes to accomplish something big.
“I can’t stress enough how perfectly fit Amaury is to introduce our former president,” said Manu Edakara, Gies Business Associate Director for Entrepreneurial Communities and manager of the iVenture Accelerator. “When I offered Amaury the iVenture Award at the Cozad Challenge, you could see he was immensely grateful but also relentlessly hungry. His success represents a few amazing characteristics that allow him to step up to face big challenges.
“His dedication to his venture Nouvo showcases his work ethic and hope for the future.”
Inspiration struck Saulsberry during a moment in which his family needed hopefulness and hard work.
When his youngest brother, Asher, was born a year and a half ago with breathing complications, the family didn’t find the answers they were looking for quickly enough.
After months of watching her son spit up regularly and struggle to sleep, Saulsberry’s mother sunk into post-partum depression. This only ceased after, finally, a doctor explained that Asher was struggling with acid reflux.
But damage was already done to 80 percent of the baby’s esophagus.
“There had to be a better way to read the PH level of a baby,” Saulsberry said. “When I finally started with a little research, I found out there really wasn’t. At that point, I started working on Nouvo.”
According to the company’s statement, this “smart pacifier detects acidity levels in a baby’s saliva as a biomarker for acid reflux and airway complications in infants.”
The first prototype, won Saulsberry the Top Newcomer award at Cozad—which came along with about $25,000 in assistance from the Intellectual Property Clinic. It also earned him a spot in iVenture, along with the $10,000 in research funding from the accelerator.
Quickly, he formed a team that includes fellow Industrial Design major, roommate, and best friend Trevor Sibby. They then brought in Jacob Komenda, of Biochemical Engineering, and Siyu AI, who is earning a master’s in Industrial Design.
Their work on Nouvo continues, albeit with a bit more attention after he name-dropped the company during his introduction of the former president.
While he credits iVenture with helping him gain confidence in front of a crowd, Saulsberry also admitted to being nervous before his speech. It took a calm, inspirational voice—along with the president’s autograph—to call him down.
“I couldn’t keep my composure, but President Obama has a calming voice. He told me this was going to be great. Then he signed my speech, and that was all I needed in that moment,” Saulsberry said. “After hearing him speak, I think he was just trying to tell us—the younger generation—that it’s up to us.
“We have the power to make the world a better place. We just need to start working. No missed opportunities.”