UC grad launches lifesaving climbing tech

Bailout Systems’ tech reduces risks to climbers, firefighters and military

Michael Ragsdale remembers the moment clearly, though he rarely wants to.

 He’d headed down to Kentucky’s Red River Gorge for rock climbing — an activity he finds “incredibly rewarding” due to its “sense of achievement and connection to nature.”

Out of nowhere, tragedy struck. Ragsdale’s fall safety equipment failed, and he plunged 100 feet from the side of the gorge, leading to two months in the hospital, recovery from a coma and learning how to walk again.

At certain points, Ragsdale thought he’d never restart rock climbing.

“Going back down to the gorge and making the decision to continue climbing was extremely difficult,” he said. “This taught me how to deal with fear and think objectively about risk … something that would serve me throughout my life as an entrepreneur.”

From scaling cliffs to scaling a business

So, how exactly did Ragsdale transform a near-death experience into a burgeoning startup? Credit his unwavering passion for rock climbing, a service-driven mentality and invaluable mentorship from the University of Cincinnati’s Venture Lab.

Michael Ragsdale headshot

Michael Ragsdale. Photo/Michael Ragsdale

Bailout Systems, as described by Ragsdale, is “a patented hands-free descent technology designed to revolutionize fall safety as a whole.” He said it’s the world’s smallest device of its kind, developed to “significantly reduce the risk of injury or death due to user error in high-pressure situations.”

Ragsdale’s target audience is “anyone involved in high-altitude work,” including firefighters, military personnel, rock climbers and arborists. Bailout Systems' technology improves upon current fall safety devices by reducing their size and eliminating the need for manual control.

While Ragsdale, who graduated in industrial design from UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) in 2017, boasts an innovative mind, he needed guidance on running a startup. Cue the Venture Lab, a startup accelerator housed inside UC’s 1819 Innovation Hub.

Service-based innovation

Bailout Systems serves a dual mission: to generate revenue and safeguard individuals working in high-risk professions. Taking Ragsdale’s design from an ingenious idea to a nationally available product required a vast deal of expertise, leading this Bearcat to seek support from the Venture Lab.

Being part of the Venture Lab has been a transformative experience for Bailout Systems.

Michael Ragsdale CEO, Bailout Systems

“Michael’s success with building, launching and scaling Bailout Systems reflects the kind of impact that the Venture Lab’s portfolio of resources can play in supporting Cincinnati-based founders,” said Kate Harmon, assistant vice president of UC’s Office of Innovation.

She highlights mentorship, networking and funding as specific aspects of the Venture Lab that benefit startups like Bailout Systems.

“Being part of the UC Venture Lab has been a transformative experience for Bailout Systems,” Ragsdale said. “The lab’s support has been multifaceted, including pitch competitions that provided essential funding for our prototypes, mentorship that helped refine our business model and valuable industry connections that opened doors to potential investors and partners.”

Bailout Systems logo

Bailout Systems logo. Photo/Bailout Systems

Ragsdale is proud to be the founder and CEO of a company that earns him a living and has the potential to save lives in the process. He encourages other entrepreneurs to pursue their ideas and take advantage of the resources around them, whether for lifesaving technologies or not.

“Seize every opportunity the [Venture Lab] offers,” Ragsdale said. “Leverage the mentorship, participate actively in networking events and take advantage of the strategic guidance provided. The resources and community at the Venture Lab can significantly accelerate your startup journey and help turn your ideas into reality.”

Transforming tech, saving lives

It’s hard to believe that a 2-pound device, no larger than a hockey puck, could be a game changer between life and death, yet Bailout Systems made a way. This kind of breakthrough innovation is the hallmark of the Venture Lab, as Ragsdale knows firsthand.

“I like to remind people that the University of Cincinnati outshines Ivy League schools graduating billion-dollar unicorn founders,” Ragsdale said.

Whether creating the next billion-dollar business or developing lifesaving technology, Bearcats are merging brilliance with innovation and positively transforming lives in the process.

Featured image at top: Rock climber using Bailout Systems' technology. Photo/Bailout Systems

Innovation Lives Here

The University of Cincinnati is leading public urban universities into a new era of innovation and impact. Our faculty, staff and students are saving lives, changing outcomes and bending the future in our city's direction. Next Lives Here.

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