By Deborah M. Todd
After a year when ActivAided Orthotics founder Kelly Collier grew the medical brace business from a handful of customers to a following of more than 500, she is now working to help her entire sector brace for change.
Ms. Collier, a 25-year old Carnegie Mellon University graduate, embarked on the idea to upgrade the standard back brace into a flexible and supportive posture-correcting shirt after sustaining a back injury as a collegiate swimmer.
She teamed up with physician Gary Chimes and several classmates to create the company’s first prototype as part of her senior project.
The prototype was enough to secure a spot in the 2012 AlphaLab accelerator program, which provides its startups $25,000 in seed funding, mentoring and access to fabrication workshops to create physical products.
After graduating from AlphaLab in 2012, Ms. Collier said she had some trouble deciding whether to concentrate on direct sales to customers or on finding distribution channels to get the product into hospitals and clinics.
However, once she made what she calls her “first big break” by connecting with Ross-based musculoskeletal service provider Elizur Corp., progress was swift and significant.
Over the course of a few months, ActivAided Orthotics built a clientele that eventually pushed 600 units out of their office and gained a celebrity client in Pittsburgh Penguin defenseman Harrison Ruopp. The company isn’t profitable yet but was able to make $100,000 in sales.
“You still have a really long way to go until you have this feeling like you made it, but that’s nothing to scoff at. We’ve actually put a good amount of products out there,” Ms. Collier said.
Ms. Collier might not think she made it, but the U.S. Small Business Administration says she’s well on her way. Her efforts were awarded this month with designation as the Western Pennsylvania Young Entrepreneur of the Year.