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.
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, 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.
“Her back problems lead her to turn a class project into a business that helps correct posture in a non-restrictive form. It’s incredible that a simple shirt will be able to help so many athletes plagued by back pain,” said Kevin White, acting district director for Western Pennsylvania SBA.
Noting that a few simple discoveries made all the difference when it came to attracting new customers for her business, Ms. Collier said an industry of doctors, insurance providers, medical device manufacturers and distributors could use a little information about others in the medical supply chain.
So when the SBA approached her with an idea to use her Entrepreneur of the Year celebration to tackle a topic close to her heart, she decided to turn the event into an event discussing ways the medical community can use changes coming with the Affordable Care Act to their advantage.
Featured speakers include Ms. Collier, who will discuss “Treatment Through Innovation,” James Lomuscio of physical therapy patient management company Hability will discuss the importance of patient relationships and Robert Wanovich, vice president of market strategy and delivery for Highmark will discuss utilization management.
Beyond the targeted topics, Ms. Coller said her goal is for all parts of the supply chain to work together to improve the process.
“We wanted to bring all of these people together from different parts of the process — from prescribing the product, billing the product, paying for the product — bring them all into one place so they can learn more about each other, learn what each other can and can’t do, and learn how we as a community need to work together to focus on the total equation, the total cost of care for someone.
Every link in the chain needs to understand how the process works,” she said.