The Oakford Group

10 Startups to Watch in 2018

The Invertabelt System, developed by The Oakford Group, utilizes research-proven physical therapy treatment strategies and techniques to treat low back pain in the privacy of one’s own home.

Founders/Management Team
Andy Champion, founder, is a physical therapy expert with 10 years of outpatient clinical experience focused on orthopedics and spine care, and lead developer of multiple continuing education courses. Co-founder Janna Bruesch is a physical therapy expert with 18 years of outpatient clinical experience focused on spine care, and an adjunct faculty member for the PTA program at Illinois Central College. Both are members of the Spine Clinical Specialty Team at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center.

What makes your product unique or different from other solutions on the market? 
Clinical-quality treatment techniques—once only available in physical therapy or at a chiropractor’s office—can now be performed in the comforts of one’s own home, at a fraction of the cost. The Invertabelt improves low back pain by addressing muscle imbalances, spinal stiffness, spinal instability, nerve irritation, and asymmetrical spinal loading dysfunctions (approximately 85 percent of all low back pain).

The hallmark treatment strategy follows the McKenzie Method, the most recognized treatment method in the world for low back pain. Using The Invertabelt, exercise progressions of the McKenzie Method that were once only able to be performed by a trained clinician can now be performed on their own.

Low back pain plays a direct role in the rising costs of the U.S. healthcare system, with reported costs of over $100 billion annually. About 104 million Americans suffer from low back pain at any given time, with 33 million currently being treated and 71 million suffering without treatment. As a whole, the healthcare community does a poor job of treating low back pain, as the reoccurrence rate of low back pain hovers around 60 percent.

Low back pain is currently treated through a variety of strategies, including rehabilitation and medication. Unfortunately, treatment through opioids has only further pushed forward the opioid crisis. Rehabilitation has been proven to be the most effective; however, compliance decreases with attendance at therapy sessions, which can be inconvenient, costly and labor-intensive. Over the last decade, injectables and surgery have proven to be effective in about half of cases. None of the current solutions provides a low-cost, self-treatment strategy for insured Americans. Furthermore, uninsured or individuals of low economic means have few options to assess and self-treat their low back pain.

The Invertabelt System can be used in chiropractor offices (60,000 offices in the U.S.), physical therapy offices (90,000 outpatient clinics), and at home (104 million Americans with low back pain). Sales will be directed at both therapy clinics and directly to the customer.

The Oakford Group intends to develop a patient-friendly education process using simple treatment algorithms, videos, blogs and patient forums. Content will be formatted for a fifth-grade education level, permitting all individuals to have access to education that allows them to self-assess and treat their low back pain.

What was the catalyzing “aha” moment which led to your startup?
I began development of The Invertabelt after I had my own experience with low back pain. Luckily, as a therapist I was able to quickly self-assess my problem and prescribe the exercises appropriate for recovery. I diagnosed myself with a spinal disc injury; treatment consisted of extension or back-bending exercises that help manipulate the disc into its original position, referred to as the McKenzie Method.

The McKenzie Method requires the patient to reach end range of motion with the back-bend exercises. Unfortunately, many patients have difficulty doing this on their own, which is imperative to reaching full recovery… so they need therapists to provide overpressure to the spinal segment.

I found that I required overpressure to be performed to reach end range of motion. Naturally, I followed my colleagues around and during downtime in the clinic, I would have them treat me. I also tried to teach my wife how to perform the technique so I could treat myself at home. As I stalked my colleagues and forced my wife to help me, I realized there was a significant treatment gap for patients. If they were not receiving overpressure from a clinician and were unable to reach end range of motion on their own, they would be limited in their recovery. I realized there had to be a better way for patients to provide overpressure, independently from the clinic, to promote full recovery. After several iterations, The Invertabelt was born!

What key milestones has your company achieved so far?
Key milestones have included:

  • Two patents issued and trademark filed;
  • Product launch in March 2017;
  • Four straight profitable months;
  • Brave Launch winner for Best Business Model and Best Pitch;
  • Launch of two education courses;
  • Product featured on POCket Rehab site;
  • Partnership with an education company in India to feature product; and
  • Research initiated between OSF and Bradley University’s physical therapy department featuring the product.

Did you have assistance from local entrepreneurial resources, or were there other key individuals who helped you launch?
We were listed on Startup GP’s website and participated in 1 Million Cups. The 2016 Brave Launch program assisted in customer discovery and strategic planning; and Ross Miller, Carey Novak, Chad Stamper of the SBDC and Turner Center for Entrepreneurship at Bradley University provided consulting in commercialization, product development and strategic planning.

What key milestones do you hope to achieve in 2018?

  • Development and launch of education courses on therapy topics;
  • Continued relationship development with U.S. and international distributors;
  • Execution of clinical retail business model focusing on inventory and drop shipping models; and
  • Exploring options towards innovative physical products and application.

What has been the biggest challenge so far on your startup journey?
The biggest challenge is time management. There seems to not be enough hours in the day. It can be difficult to be the husband and father I want to be for my family, while chasing a dream and continuing to work full-time as a clinician.

What advice do you have for other prospective entrepreneurs?
Make sure you are passionate about your project; to be successful, you have to be 100-percent committed. It can consume you at times, and is on your mind 24/7. Be prepared to constantly take two steps forward and one step back. Be ready for the grind and be prepared to be committed for the long haul, because startups take time! iBi

For more information, visit theinvertabelt.com.

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