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Caption: Neil Hailey, a junior mechanical engineering major, and Matthew Sozio, a first-year Master of Product Innovation student, have formed Efficient Innovations LLC to develop their French Slide invention and try to bring it to market.
Caption: Neil Hailey, a junior mechanical engineering major, and Matthew Sozio, a first-year Master of Product Innovation student, have formed Efficient Innovations LLC to develop their French Slide invention and try to bring it to market.

VCU Students Invent an Entirely New Kind of Patio Door

By Brian McNeill
University Public Affairs

Matthew Sozio was helping his lifelong friend and fellow Virginia Commonwealth University student Neil Hailey move into a house on Park Avenue when they discovered Hailey’s couch was not going to fit easily through the patio door.

Sozio, a Master of Product Innovation student, and Hailey, a junior mechanical engineering major in the School of Engineering, started tossing around ideas about how they might address the common problem of moving furniture that doesn’t easily fit through a standard sliding patio door.

“We got online and started looking at different door systems and different ways to get around this problem,” Sozio said. “We found that there were solutions, but none that allowed you to keep the functionality of your sliding glass door.”

Sozio and Hailey decided to try to design an entirely new kind of door.

The result? The French Slide.

“We combined the way a sliding glass door and a French door works. It can open by sliding or by hinging,” Hailey said. “We took the best features of both styles to come up with a new kind of residential door.”

Sozio and Hailey have formed a startup, Efficient Innovations LLC, and are beginning the work of bringing the French Slide to market. They grew up across the street from one another in Manassas, Virginia, and launched a number of startups together.

Last spring, Sozio and Hailey participated in a Startup Spring Break event hosted by the da Vinci Center, a collaboration of VCU’s schools of the Arts, Business, Engineering and College of Humanities and Sciences, that advances innovation and entrepreneurship. Their French Slide concept won an award at the event that allowed them to work on building a prototype and receive mentorship at local makerspace Build, RVA.

Over the summer, Sozio and Hailey focused on the process of obtaining a patent for the French Slide, and tapped the services of a pro bono lawyer who assists students at VCU’s Founder’s Corner, a co-working space for student entrepreneurs in University Student Commons.

“We talked to him about whether this is actually patentable, or if we’re just fantasizing about an idea that someone has already patented,” Sozio said. “He looked at it and told us he thought what we had was very innovative and that he'd never seen anything like it before, so he referred us to a patent lawyer here in Richmond.”

With the help of the intellectual property lawyer, Sozio and Hailey now have a patent pending. They believe the French Slide has major potential.

“We hope to see a point where if you’re building a house or installing a patio door, this will be seen as a great option,” Hailey said. “If you have a normal house with a back patio, why not put in a door like this? If you’re [a developer and] building a neighborhood, why not put this door in the houses?”

“Our goal is to eliminate the sliding glass door in its entirety,” Sozio added.