Auburn Engineering team creates physical fitness device, wins 10th Tiger Cage

Published: Apr 1, 2024 2:00 PM

By Joe McAdory

AbGlo is a physical fitness device that provides sensory feedback to correct lumbar posture during lower back rehabilitation exercises. It’s also now among the list of Auburn University’s premier student business pitch competition winners.

Resembling an exercise mat, AbGlo contains a flexible sensor that activates lights, vibration and audio feedback and is designed to track the posterior tilt of users, ensuring proper position before strengthening weak muscles around the spine, weak core muscles – effectively treating symptoms of low back pain.

The device impressed industry professional judges enough to win the 10th Tiger Cage Student Business Pitch Competition on Friday, March 29, which provided six finalists each 20 minutes each to pitch ideas before answering questions industry professional judges.

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Holli Michaels displays the fitness device, AbGlo, to judges in the March 29 Tiger Cage final round.

“AbGlo provides users and health care professionals with instant feedback so everybody can see and feel they are doing the exercises correctly,” said AbGlo co-founder Holli Michaels, an engineering management online graduate student from Santa Barbara, California. “It’s a back rehab tool, first and foremost.”

Born from an idea by health club owner Marianne Madsen in southern California, AbGlo was co-founded by Michaels and Madsen, who added Auburn computer science and software engineering alumnus Courtney Montague to the team to support with software development.

Presented by the New Venture Accelerator and Harbert College of Business, Tiger Cage awarded $80,000 in early-stage startup capital to finalists, including $30,000 to AbGlo for first place. Auburn Engineering students have been part of nine Tiger Cage-winning teams since the first competition in 2015.

Second place and $15,000 went to College of Agriculture graduate student Chera Howard for her business idea, Mammoth Super Sod, which introduces a natural grass that can stand up to drought conditions and contains an efficient energy irrigation system that can reduce up to 70% in water usage.

Third place and $10,000 went to industrial and systems engineering sophomore Thomas Lester and recent College of Liberal Arts graduate and Auburn football linebacker Eugene Asante for their product, Earlybird, a single-use canned beverage (coffee or tea) that features a user-friendly, side-mounted push point which activates interior heating. Interior temperatures can reach 170 degrees Fahrenheit, while insulation protects users from burning. The Thomas Walter Center also awarded the team $5,000 for “Special Category.”

Fourth place and $5,000 went to five industrial and systems engineering seniors, Alex Washburn, Jordan Snyder, Emily Glaze, Maddy McCutchin and Maddie Robison for their startup Roller to Optimize Material Efficiency (ROME) and its device, the CowPaw. As ROME’s flagship product, CowPaw is an ergonomic tool designed to streamline laying paper in poultry farms.

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Thomas Lester, a sophomore in industrial and systems engineering, shows off his design that allows beverage cans to quickly heat at the push of a button.

Other awards — including $10,000 for social impact, and $5,000 for exemplary undergraduate student — were given to Abby Stansell, a senior in business administration, and Luke Dixon, a senior in industrial design.

“Tiger Cage continues to evolve each year, producing a greater diversity of innovative ideas that not only have the potential to fare well in the marketplace, but also improve our quality of life,” said Lou Bifano, director at the New Venture Accelerator.

“The product presentations were not only a hit, but the business plans behind them were thorough. This is a testament to both the student teams, who really poured their hearts into their ideas, but also the New Venture Accelerator’s team of entrepreneurs-in-residence, whose student mentorship cannot be understated. I call on all student innovators to consider putting their ideas to practice and participate in next year’s Tiger Cage.”

Michaels, a senior design transfer engineer at medical device company Arthrex, said she not only used her Auburn Engineering education to develop AbGlo, but also to develop as a professional.

“I decided to go back to school (in 2021) when COVID hit,” said Michaels, who earned bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Gannon University and currently oversees a design transfer team at Arthrex that focuses on internal and external manufacturing, including surgical orthopedic camera imaging devices. “Before I went back to pursue my master’s degree, there were increasing opportunities to become a supervisor, and I wanted to bridge the gap between my technical knowledge and business acumen, so I signed up for engineering management with a focus on product innovation online at Auburn.

“Since then, I have transitioned from an engineer to an entrepreneur through the incredible exposure I’ve had in my classes with Dr. (Richard) Sesek, Dr. (John) Evans and Dan O’Leary. I was so motivated by the content of their classes, that I set up a workshop in my apartment and started to make things again in the evening hours after work. With a new mental framework, I began to see opportunities all around me to help people. The day I heard Marianne wishing for a tool to help her with her back rehabilitation clients, I knew this was the opportunity of a lifetime, and the one that was waiting for me all along.”

Media Contact: Joe McAdory,, 334.844.3447
AbGlo co-founder and engineering management online graduate student Holli Michaels, right, accepts the first place check from Tiger Cage emcee Mark Forchette, who earned a degree in marketing from Auburn in 1981.

AbGlo co-founder and engineering management online graduate student Holli Michaels, right, accepts the first place check from Tiger Cage emcee Mark Forchette, who earned a degree in marketing from Auburn in 1981.

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