Nesel Packs - The World's First Sensory Friendly Backpack

What if students with autism could feel comfortable at school AND at their home?

Photo of Martha Pietruszewski
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Nesel Packs was founded by a group of 6 students at the University of Minnesota. As we were ideating on this project, we quickly discovered that a member of the team grew up in a volunteer foster house. He saw many students with autism and other learning disabilities throughout the years, and they were struggling with feeling comfortable at each new house. The backpack is our solution of making sure they feel safe and comfortable in school and at home.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Minnesota

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Minnesota

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]


Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The problem Nesel Packs is addressing is that the current therapies used by students with sensory processing difficulties and autism are outdated and not very customizable to the student using them. We wanted to create a product that was new and innovative, as well as it being able to help as many students as possible through its unique features.

Nesel Packs created the world's first sensory friendly backpack. We modeled our backpack off of a weighted vest, which is often used by students and adults with sensory processing difficulties. Traditionally, these weighted vests are medical and clunky. We wanted to create something that had similar functionality, but allowed a student to feel safe, comfortable, and secure while wearing it - all while creating more functionality in a product than what is currently available to students with autism or other disabilities. 

Image title

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Children who are differently abled

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Child and Family Services
  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

The first student we ever had try a Nesel Pack was named Zach. He was 6, and just finishing Kindergarten. School was a scary place for him because it was big and confusing. When he tried on our Nesel Pack, he was able to attach his favorite toys to the clips on the bag as well as attaching his "chewy" so he could use that sensory stimulation in stressful situations. He loved many features of the backpack, including the hugging straps to make him feel more secure, the ability to attach his favorite Angry Birds character, as well as the ability to add weights in the backpack to further customize it to his needs. Needless to say, the mom loved it too, because it was a functional product that truly helped her son!

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Nesel Packs launched in September 2015. Since then, we have launched a Kickstarter campaign, which ended in April 2016. Through our efforts, we raised $35,600 to fund our backpack. This led to approximately 170 backpacks being purchased by families interested in our product. We also partnered with Fraser, the leading provider of autism services in Minnesota, to create a donation scheme through the Kickstarter. Through that aspect of the crowdfunding campaign, we were able to donate 116 backpacks to Fraser. As we continue to grow, we are looking for partnerships with other autism organizations as well as change organizations to donate even more backpacks to those who are interested. We are also planning on expanding our sizing of the backpack so more students and adults are able to use this product to its full potential.

Organization Type

  • for-profit

Annual Budget

  • $1k - $10k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Because of our success through Kickstarter, we are planning to reinvest any profit that we made to grow our company. This includes donating backpacks, creating new partnerships, and exploring new sales channels. We are also planning on revamping the design to make sure the backpack will become more affordable to those who are in need of it the most.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

We are currently the only sensory-friendly backpack in the market. However, we are certainly not the only organization that is dedicated to helping students and adults with autism. Nesel Packs differ from current approaches because we are creating a new product that will benefit anyone with sensory processing difficulties. We also are partnering with several organizations to help bring this product to as many people as possible, and approach our work with a very collaborative mindset.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Products like the Nesel Pack will impact children's well being because it will allow them to feel safe and comfortable in potentially uncomfortable situations. It also will allow students to not stand out as someone who is disabled or differently abled. They are wearing a backpack, which millions of people do every single day!

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Twitter

Evaluation results

5 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 80%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 0%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 20%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 0%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 100%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 0%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 0%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 0%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 40%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 20%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 20%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 20%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 0%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 40%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 40%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 20%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 66.7%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 100%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 0%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 100%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 33.3%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Leanne McEvoy

Love it!  Consider taking this on Shark Tank.  It's a great product and given the impact on of those investors might jump and give you the financial support to take this nationally much quicker!  Keep up the good work!

Photo of Martha Pietruszewski

Hi Leanne McEvoy ! Shark Tank would be a dream.... Thanks so much for your kind messages and support.

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