Cowper-Smith: 'We weren't willing to give up.'

Cowper-Smith: 'We weren't willing to give up.'

After settling on its 15th design iteration, Spring Loaded Technology is finally ready to unleash its “bionic” knee brace on the world.

As it opens its new headquarters and manufacturing facility in Dartmouth this month, the company that grew out of Dalhousie University’s Starting Lean class is preparing for a pre-sales campaign it hopes will validate demand for the product. Spring Loaded has developed a knee brace that strengthens as well as stabilizes the joint. The product can increase the performance of athletes or grant greater mobility to people who have difficulty moving because of age, disability or obesity.

“It is the same size as an existing rigid shell knee brace, and it can do a lot of what a powered exoskeleton does,” said CEO Christopher Cowper-Smith in an interview. A powered exoskeleton is a military or medical application that fits over the body and can lift the individual’s entire body weight. “The big difference is that ours is one-tenth the size, one-tenth the weight and one-100th of the cost.”

Cowper-Smith, who today was short-listed for the 2015 BDC Young Entrepreneur Award, said he, Co-Founder Bob Garrish and their team have persevered to come up with a light-weight, efficient design for their brace.

The vision has always been for a joint that gains energy when the knee bends and then releases it when the knee strengthens, increasing the power in the joint. Since they began the project in late 2012, they tested and rejected three different joint technologies before settling on the fourth last year. Cowper-Smith won’t give away the secret ingredient of the device but said it was inspired by the landing gear of an aircraft.

As well as being functional, they had to come up with a design that was as light, elegant and small as possible. In all, they have designed it 15 times.

In the meantime, they embarked on a media campaign that included paying for social media posts. The result was that they reached thousands of individuals, about a third of whom said they are interested in buying the Spring Loaded brace. 

These people – many of them aging athletes who hope to extend their careers -- will be the backbone of the pre-sales campaign. Cowper –Smith expects a general launch before the end of the year.

The company has raised about $850,000 in equity funding and about $1.65 million from government programs. It plans to raise more money from angel investors to finance the sales push in the coming year or so.

Looking back, Cowper-Smith said he and Garrish had no idea it would take so long to get the product right.

“In all honesty, absolutely not,” he said. “We initially thought we could so this in half the time and probably for half the money. In hindsight, we know we accomplished a lot in this amount of time when you look at what’s involved in a project like this. We weren’t willing to give up -- that’s for sure. We managed to keep your heads down and keep on with it.”