Project Vive - Giving a Voice to the Voiceless

Written by, | Jan 17, 2018 12:47 PM
Mary and Tripp_9257 (4).jpg

Working in the Project Vive lab

Vive, (pronounced vee-vay) is the Spanish word for "to live." 

About 4.5 million people worldwide have nonverbal diseases like ALS and cerebral palsy, which prevents them from verbally communicating and finding work. Many medical conditions can cause someone to be unable to speak, including Anoxic brain injury and Rett's syndrome. With the help of Mary Elizabeth McCulloch and her team at Project Vive, many people are now able to voice their wants and talents, leading them to live a better life.

Project Vive is a humanitarian effort to help improve the lives of people with nonverbal communication disabilities.  By using technology as a catalyst, the Project Vive team is developing, manufacturing and distributing a low-cost solution, helping to restore one of mankind's most precious abilities - speech.

Current assistive technologies use touch screens or large icon keyboards, which can be difficult for users with limited muscular control. The devices often break down and need to be replaced. They can range in price from $10,000 - $17,000, making them very expensive to purchase.

Recognizing that all disability is different, Project Vive's Voz Box adjusts to meet the needs of the individual user. Built from inexpensive and reliable materials, it's much more affordable.

Project Vive's goal is to empower all individuals with the ability to communicate more easily which will in turn allow them to participate, advocate, and break the stigma of their disabilities.


As a high school exchange student, Mary Elizabeth McCulloch lived in Ecuador, where she volunteered at an orphanage for people with special needs.  Many residents struggled to talk because of the effects of cerebral palsy, ALS or other conditions.  

Mary Elizabeth: It really hit me this problem that people were unable to communicate their ideas their dreams and how that was really inhibiting.

After high school, Mary Elizabeth majored in biomedical engineering at Penn State University

A classroom competition prompted her to invent a speech recognition device, something she hoped would help people like her friends in South America.  

Mary Elizabeth: And that's really where Project Vive started.

She knew she had a great idea, but she lacked the money, materials, and experience needed to pursue her dream. 

Mary Elizabeth presented her idea to Penn State University, where a number of programs were ready to help student and community entrepreneurs.

The Happy Valley LaunchBox, gave Project Vive (VEE VAY) a dedicated work space, and provided advice on product testing, obtaining patents, and drafting business contracts.

Mary Elizabeth: Really great resources that we really didn't have the funds to pay professionals to help us with at the time.

Thanks to the support of Penn State's Happy Valley LaunchBox, Project Vive is fulfilling Mary Elizabeth's dream of giving a voice to the voiceless.


Learn more about Project Vive at


Happy Valley LaunchBox programs are open to everyone (community members, Penn State students, faculty, and staff). Founded in February of 2016, LaunchBox is a signature program of Invent Penn State, a Commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation, and student career success. Happy Valley LaunchBox is one of 17 innovation hubs across the Commonwealth. Their mission is to be the "hub" that connects local entrepreneurs to the support, resources, and facilities they need to build a sustainable and scalable business with a viable plan for growth.

By centralizing no-cost services, they help entrepreneurs to avoid the common mistakes startups often face and enable them to focus their time on de-risking and growing their businesses.

Learn more about Penn State University's Happy Valley LaunchBox at

Support for Innovation U comes from PNC.


Innovation U is a project from WITF, where we share stories of local entrepreneurs and midstate universities who are working together to make new ideas come to life.  Learn more  at

Tagged under

back to top

Give Now

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Join witf Kids Club

witf Kids Club logo

Are you ready?

The Path to Kindergarten Starts Here logo

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »