When Mike Geldart crashed into a concrete barrier during a sanctioned race as a teenager, little did he know that it would become part of his entrepreneurial origin story.
Now 26, he suffered damaged knee ligaments and had to undergo surgery and a rehab stint to recover.
So when he needed a product idea that could be commercialized for a business competition, he pitched a knee brace to help with mobility issues caused by ligament damage.
“I figured, why not?” said Geldart, who three years later still suffered pain from the crash. “Maybe getting a patent will help me get a job.”
Instead, Geldart has created his own job, launching GRD Biomechanics in Daytona Beach two years ago. The company recently landed $100,000 from the fledgling Orlando Opportunity Fund, marking that group’s first-ever investment.
The money will help Geldart build out his team. (STORY CONTINUES BELOW)
An accident leads to an idea
The brace started as a basement project shortly after Geldart’s accident about nine years ago.
He had grown up racing high-performance go carts and was a mechanical engineering student at the time.
As he looked for support braces after his injury, he tried to modify them but they were still too bulky.
“The whole experience didn’t work,” said Geldart, who attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
While there, he resurfaced his product idea at the Cairns Innovation Challenge in 2017. The effort landed him $10,000 and entry to UCF’s incubator in Daytona.
His background has helped in his effort to build a business, he said.
“Growing up in motorsports, I view risk a lot differently,” he said. “Starting a business wasn’t intimidating. I approached it as similar to getting into a racecar. You take all the precautions you can and plan but there are always things you can’t control.”
Help from Orlando fund
The Orlando Opportunity Fund investment will help Geldar support his 4,000-square-foot facility in Daytona Beach, launch an ecommerce site and add to his eight-person team.
The Ascend brace is a lightweight system that helps a patient adjust the muscles used in performing typical functions like getting up or walking around.
When injured, the quadriceps typically do all of the heavy lifting. The brace helps balance the effort among several leg muscles.
Geldard says the brace, which he hopes will eventually help prevent injuries, has been selling well.
“We are getting more orders than we can handle,” said Geldart, who still races cars in his spare time.
The National Institute of Health has said that the chronic, painful symptomatic knee osteoarthritis affects an estimated 9.3 million adults 45 years and older in the U.S.
GRD’s 3D-printed leg brace recently received approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for patient coverage.
Moving beyond tourism
Fund leaders have said they hope to invest in tech companies that can help move the region beyond its dependence on tourism.
“If we have learned anything from the current recession, it’s that we need to look for more non-traditional investment vehicles,” said John A. Cooper, president of startup investments for the Orlando Opportunity Fund. “This is why we started the Orlando Opportunity Fund – to support the region’s innovation and economic diversification.”
“They are disruptive and are taking an innovative approach to the knee braces and healthcare devices,” said David Brim, the fund’s chief strategy officer. “There is a lot of market potential there.”
The fund had already existing connections to GRD.
Chief Financial Officer Donna Mackenzie was involved with the Starter Studio incubator when GRD was there.
But the decision still was a tough one because it would be the fund’s first-ever investment.
“It was about knowing the entrepreneur and how hard he’s working,” Brim said. “The passion. Seeing some initial traction. That’s why we leaned toward him for the first investment.”
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