Was there a specific moment that sparked your desire to create OrthoFit?
Jason: I know during the summer when we first started working on this, I felt a pain in my wrist that I believed could be a result of repetitive motions. I don’t know if this is because I’m exposed to this all the time now or if it’s actually happening.
I guess the one thing that is kind of interesting for us, I feel we had this initial idea and we thought we had an idea of what the customers would want and where we would go with it. And our idea was that there is an acceptable range of motion your hand can be in and beyond that you are at risk of repetitive motion injury. So we thought well we will just alert you every time your hand is in the wrong position or posture. Then, we started going out to companies where their employees were at risk of these injuries, but they weren’t that interested then. Instead, they were saying "you guys are collecting all this data while you are doing that, can we get that data and then use that to re-modify the work environment and reevaluate worker motions?” Thus, our idea of OrthoFit evolved.
Can you provide more details on what you are working on?
Jason: We are making a smart glove. The idea of OrthoFit is to prevent repetitive motion injuries and improve the understanding of these types of injuries in the workplace. Initially, we were making a glove that can track and monitor the position of your hand and wrist, as well as protect how hard you are gripping or any vibration you are exposed to. And the reason why is because all these things are important factors in developing repetitive motion injuries. And so, by monitoring these things throughout the entire day, we then have our software that you can use to analyze the data with a click of a button and it will tell you how risky the person’s motions are throughout the day. The current methods that they use are just inadequate.
Fnu: Now, the way they analyze how you’re working on an assembly line is they bring in a person whose profession is to look at you while you are working. They will take videos and picture, then go back to the office and use a protractor to measure the angles of your hand and the posture. Literally they fill out a risk table, which has been used for the past 30 years. They do a long evaluation and come out with a score, and that score tells you how much risk are you at right now. So as you can see this whole process is very manual, but there’s obviously a scorecard automatizing the score process so that is what we are going for.
Is this a product you are marketing towards the business owners to buy for their workers, or will it be a commercial product for the workers themselves?
Fnu: For now, it is towards business owners. The idea is that we are designing this whole setup to be used by the Health and Safety officer of the facility, who has authority to tell the worker to take a break after completing several repetitions of the job and you should take a break. Or maybe make worker A and worker B switch jobs to use a different set of muscles to reduce the possibility of an injury.
Jason: Our initial market is the meat and poultry industry. The reason why we chose them is because looking closely online we can see that they have the highest rate of repetitive motion injuries. We then reached out to contact them on their online portal. I always tell the story about Tyson. We went to the “Contact Us” portal and wrote a little description about who we are. Within a week we heard from their Corporate and Public Safety Officer. This happened a few times and we thought “Wow! This must be a big problem for them. If these people are reaching back out to us this quickly.”
Are you focusing on wrist injuries or are you looking for expanding to new injuries?
Fnu: I think it's a great starting point for us, so that once we establish ourselves and get the credibility we need I think we'll have all the capabilities to move on to other kinds of injuries.
Jason: But our initial idea was to prevent Carpal tunnel because there are millions of cases each year that we can address. But then we found this broader applicability for a risk assessment, so the idea is for more of a family of smart wearables to monitor.
Are you thinking of redesigning a product at some point to make it more attractive for professionals to wear in the office?
Jason: We worked with this program in the Cornell Center for Materials Research. They have been working closely with us on helping us to design a glove that will be for office workers. So we actually do have a glove design for the idea of office workers in mind. It's just for a start-up you have to be focused and accomplish one task really well and you really can't be divided. So maybe that's something for down the line.
How heavy is it? Is it just like a normal glove?
Fnu: Yes, it's just a pretty skinny sleeve which goes on your hand. I don't think it weighs any more than a few grams. But the electronics itself is just paper thin at 0.1 millimeters.
Are there any competitors that are doing something similar to this? Or are you the first to the market?
Jason: There are different categories of direct competitors. There's maybe one or two that we found out recently. Their strategies seem to be somewhere different. No one is targeting meat and poultry industry, which is great for us so we can get our name out there. But in terms of what people are currently using right now there's a lot of ergonomic consulting companies. So they hire someone who's an ergonomist.
How would you get people to recognize the importance of proper posture?
Jason: We are starting in the meat and poultry industry because they are well aware of it. 7.8 percent of their workforce gets repetitive motion injuries and another 40 percent are showing signs. We’ve met with a ton of their health and safety officers and they all tell us safety is their top priority. These industries are well aware of the problem and feeling the hurt as it costs them on average $30,000 for a carpal tunnel case and the people miss work, so there is a lot of downside there.
Have you sold your product to any corporations yet?
Jason: We are in the process of setting up a formal pilot with one of the big companies.
How has the Cornell community and resources helped you with the development of OrthoFit?
Jason: In terms of the academic resources, the professors and mentors, they are awesome. Every one of them has a unique experience and brings a different set of skills to the table, and they all want to see us succeed. I feel that’s been one of the most helpful resources.
Fnu: We had no idea how to start a business or how to establish a company. We heard about a professor in the Cornell Law School, and he’s one of the best corporate lawyers in the country. We just e-mailed him, and he said “come over to my office.”
Jason: It’s crazy how willing people are to help you. And even not here but people that are related to Cornell saying “you go to Cornell, I used to go to Cornell, I can help you.” They can get you anywhere.
Being entrepreneurs, do you feel like you have any habits that have made you more successful?
Jason: Time management is also huge, Google Calendar or whatever method you have to plan, every half an hour of my day is planned out. Communication, seeing the bigger picture, and staying motivated is important. You hit a lot of lulls with the startup and you’ll have a peak and then some lulls, you have to be able to see the bigger picture to get the motivation to get out of those lulls.
Fnu: And also I feel when you are at Cornell you don’t understand how important you are, when you go out and see other people you realize your value. A lot of people just responded to us just knowing that we are from Cornell and have this idea.
Why did you decide at this point in your life when you have so much going on to start OrthoFit?
Jason: For me I wasn’t too satisfied with the PhD and didn’t want to be involved in research my entire life. It’s kind of a slow, tedious process where you maybe find out one specific fact. But then I started actually kind of liking the idea of entrepreneurship. I took an entrepreneurship class to get exposed to some of the values and all the effort you put in goes to this company. It's your vision. All these things, and I felt this is for me and I think when it clicks you realize this is it.
There's a mobile app that comes with the product. How does that work?
Jason: It’s is still in the development stage. The idea of the mobile app was initially kind of with our older idea where each person has their phone linked to a device. But it’s not as applicable with the worker on the assembly line and their managers looking at the data. So the idea now is more of a software that’s on a tablet, desktop, or laptop.
Fnu: It's going to be worn by workers on the assembly line. And we collect data through a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi hub where these workers are working. Also these people are not allowed to carry a new phone or electronic device when they're working so we will have to install all these data acquisitions and setups. We might be designing an app for the health and safety officer so they can monitor, and they don't have to check their computers all the time to see who is at risk all the time. They can just look at the app and figure out on the assembly line what they need to do.
Do you have anything else you want our readers to know?
Jason: Just to add on, with the current methods they use, they'll have basic tools, and take a video of their employees from twenty to thirty minutes and l spend hours after hours trying to collect this data. So what happens is they are able to assess workers once the injury has occurred. With the automated devices, they can look at every single worker and the differences between employees. Now you can look at workers beforehand as well as monitor them throughout their whole job process and focus earlier on with training. Right now, no one is evaluating their habits while they are training. They say, “this guy can chop this many things in like five minutes, good, he’s ready to go out there,” but no one knows if he’s doing it right. When he has an injury, then they know that he’s doing it wrong. But now, you can see that during training and prevent all the injuries in all the employees.
Fnu: Also, by looking at how the employees are performing, this can be used to look at a particular task. If for some particular job, all the employees are using bad posture, something must be wrong with the task and needs to be changed ergonomically. So maybe changing the height of the assembly line, where the workers are standing, or the tools they are using. That kind of gives you a sign that something is wrong with the job. Once we start working on the pilot, we’ll have all these data points, which connect with all the employees. We want to use machine learning in that, so we just collect data on one particular worker and based on that what activity you can predict. Like, if you keep on doing this, in how much time you’re going to get an injury in the future. So that predictability tool is something that we want to employ when planning for the future.
It sounds technical in the medical sense. Did you guys have to consult experts about this field at all?
Jason: We’ve spoken to a dozen physical therapists and orthopedic surgeons. What’s directly relevant to what we’re doing now is that we have an advisor who is a certified ergonomist. There are only a few ergonomics programs in the U.S that teach. Her advice on what’s important to measure and this whole assessment idea has been crucial.