Advancing ability for people with Parkinson's disease: Izzy Mokotoff, co-founder of SteadyScrib

Amelia Stone
Mar 26, 2024
izzy mokotoff and alexis chan displaying the steadyscrib pen set

Izzy Mokotoff was singing in the shower last summer when her music suddenly paused. Her phone was ringing, but she couldn’t figure out why someone would call so early in the morning. It turned out she was being recognized on the Forbes Chicago 30 Under 30 list.

Mokotoff, a Medill senior, was recently recognized alongside co-founder Alexis Chan, a McCormick senior studying biomedical engineering, for their work in developing her start-up SteadyScrib. They produce pen sets for people whose writing has been affected by Parkinson’s disease.

Mokotoff and her family grew up exchanging handwritten letters with their grandfather, Pops. His love of writing and time spent as the editor-in-chief of his college newspaper is what encouraged Mokotoff to attend Medill.

Mokotoff's Grandmother & Grandfather (Pops)

“They always had the tightest bond,” said Julie Mokotoff, Izzy’s mother. She explained that Mokotoff and Pops had so many traditions and a special relationship. She would visit him in Boston while she lived in Atlanta and she was always sure to respond to every letter Pops would send.

However, during her sophomore year at Northwestern, Pops’ Parkinson’s symptoms had worsened to a point where he could no longer write.

“This loss of ability was not just difficult in a functional sense but also a deeply personal sense,” Mokotoff said.

His challenge seemed common enough that Mokotoff figured there had to be a solution for his loss of ability. Yet, after hours of research, Mokotoff found nothing.

She walked down the hall to her friend and neighbor, Chan, to vent about the lack of solutions for Pops or other Parkinson’s patients who lost their ability to write. Instead of leaving empty-handed, Mokotoff left with an idea, and SteadyScrib was born.

Mokotoff and Chan began visiting The Garage, Northwestern’s hub for student entrepreneurs and start-ups. Soon, they designed their first pen set prototype. The set includes a pen with a weighted core and wide grip that is magnetically stabilized by the clipboard that comes with the set. The magnets allow for the pen and paper to stay as steady as possible, even with tremors from Parkinson’s. It is the first of its kind specifically designed for people with Parkinson’s.

“We fill in each other's gaps with the engineering versus the entrepreneurship and the journalism,” Chan said.

The duo had great chemistry; by the summer, Mokotoff and Chan decided to go full-time, participating in 2022’s summer Jumpstart program at The Garage. They worked furiously for 10 weeks, assembling a team, designing prototypes, conducting research, gaining publicity and testing their product.

Pops was the very first person to test the pen set prototype, and while he died in December of 2022, his legacy lives on as SteadyScrib continues to grow.

“I always say we co-created the pen in partnership with 110 unique people with Parkinson's,” Mokotoff said.

SteadyScrib worked with Northwestern Medicine and local Parkinson’s support group Evanston Movers and Shakers to test their concept.

“[Izzy’s] really committed to seeing this through and helping other Parkinson's patients,” said Elisa Mitchell, the assistant director of operations and finance at The Garage. “She's gonna do great things in life … I’m super excited.”

Mitchell and Mokotoff met at The Garage early on in the development of SteadyScrib. Since then, Mitchell mentored Mokotoff through her entrepreneurial journey.

At first, neither Mokotoff nor Chan had much experience with 3D printing. They worked with The Garage’s technology manager Jake Juracka to design versions of the final product, which is set to begin production later this February. Once through manufacturing, it will be distributed to SteadyScrib’s 2,800 person waitlist.

Mokotoff & Chan at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit.

“SteadyScrib is a device that will make the world a better place; it’s something that gives people back their dignity… [Izzy’s] created something that gives people in need their independence,” Mokotoff’s mother said. “She tied everything together to make this beautiful creation and her willingness to take risks and try something new and to be open to ideas… inspires me every day.”

Until then, Mokotoff is finishing her final year at Northwestern, stepping down from her role on Northwestern's Panhellenic Council, giving her last talks to NU’s chapter of The Women’s Network and attending her last few basketball games from the student section before starting her professional life. She currently has a job lined up in consulting for after graduation, but that does not mean it’s the end for SteadyScrib.

“I see SteadyScrib as something that I want to be involved with for as long as it makes sense… I want to ensure that it lives on and that our pen sets get into the hands of as many people with Parkinson’s as possible,” Mokotoff said. “It's just been this incredible roller coaster… It's so unexpected. I didn’t think that anything would really come of this idea but I’m just so grateful for my team and community for turning my dream into reality.”

About the Author

Amelia Stone '27 is studying at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, minoring in political science and business institutions. She's passionate about reporting on untold stories and bringing awareness to the innovation happening on campus and beyond.