High Concept

Peter Rowan plans to help the country's 17 million asthma sufferers breathe a little more easily.

About a year ago, as a student in Babson College's Entrepreneurship Intensity Track program, Rowan was looking for a business to start. A lightbulb went off when he saw his then-girlfriend (now his wife) struggling to breathe normally on cold winter days. Why not develop a product to prevent cold-air asthma attacks?

Rowan began talking to doctors, asthma patients, and army and NASA engineers to learn everything he could about asthma and how to treat it. He scoured medical journals for information about the nature and triggers of the disease. Then, with personal savings as well as funding from Babson and a loan from Rhode Island's Slater Center for Design Innovation, Rowan founded Aeolus Medical Inc., in Belmont, Mass. He has since hired an industrial designer to help him produce a line of scarves, neck warmers, and face masks that resemble the headgear skiers don on the slopes. But Rowan's Freedom-Wear does more than merely keep out the cold. Made of a fabric filter and composites of NASA-inspired materials, it actually reconditions the air. As a wearer inhales, air travels through channels in the fabric to raise its temperature and humidity.

The 30-year-old company president says his aim was to make space-age technology not just available but acceptable to laypeople. "Consumers don't want to wear a NASA space suit," he says. Initially, Rowan will target the 4.8 million people in the United States under age 18 who have asthma. To attract them, he plans to add Rugrats characters or "whatever's in at the time" to the design.

Rowan plans to introduce Freedom-Wear to New Englanders this year. He has scheduled a full marketing campaign and product launch for the end of 2002.


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