Co-founder, president and CEO, Spring Loaded Technology
Bringing bionic technology to sports enthusiasts and putting a spring in the step of people with knee injuries
What happens when a neuroscientist, an engineer and a business student take an entrepreneurship class together? They create a bionic knee, of course. Halifaxbased Spring Loaded Technology was created in 2013 by a trio of knee-injury sufferers: Chris Cowper-Smith (the scientist); Bob Garrish (the engineer); and, Shaw Kewin (the business student). The trio’s communal pain inspired Cowper-Smith to create a brace “that could assist with mobility, rather than just providing stability.”
The basis of Spring Loaded Technology is the spring inside: “We just had the small task of reinventing the spring,” Cowper-Smith explains nonchalantly. After four years of development and prototypes, they created a compact spring small enough to fit inside a conventional knee brace. The Levitation bionic knee brace hit markets in 2016 with a sales model focused on selling directly to the consumer through digital advertising. Upon determining the user is a good candidate for getting the spring back in their step, a bracing specialist works with them remotely to measure for the right fit.
Next came the million-dollar contract with the Department of National Defense in which they produced 190 military-grade knee braces for the Canadian Forces. The yearlong pilot project concluded with positive reviews from injured military members and the company hopes to be supplying braces in forthcoming contracts. In the summer of 2017, they received $2.45 million in funding through ACOA’s Atlantic Innovation Fund, which they are using to build a human factors testing lab to assess actual usage of the brace. Currently the Levitation is 100 per cent assembled onsite by the company in Dartmouth’s Burnside Industrial Park: the only part brought in is the brace’s casing.
For Ontario ex-pat Cowper-Smith (Garrish and Kewin are no longer with the company), the transition from scientist to CEO has been a challenging endeavor: “There’s always that little bit of uncomfortableness, a discomfort, with being a little bit out of your realm,” he says. For him the key lies in creating support, and not just with the knee brace. Reinforcing the company’s leadership team has been at the forefront of his agenda: “There’s been incredible support in the community, and we’ve managed to attract some people who are a lot smarter than me that help me fill in the holes.”
“I think a background in science can be really useful for an entrepreneur starting a company, because ultimately what you are trying to do as an entrepreneur, at least in startup, is do a lot of different rapid experiments to figure out how this business is going to work,” says Cowper- Smith.
It looks like 2018 will be an aggressive scaling-up year: four of the 33 employees are currently setting up temporary sales locations across the country. The U.S. and international markets are next.