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Bracing for success: Entrepreneur turns painful experience into new product

Phil Castle, The Business Times: 

While necessity might be the mother of invention, Cinde Waller knows from personal experience the powerful motivation of pain.

Desperate for relief following jaw surgery, Waller tied a satin ribbon around her head to hold her jaw in place. To keep the ribbon from slipping off, she tied another piece of ribbon around the back.

Cinde Waller, right, chief executive officer of TempOrthotics, and Laura Bradford, owner of ProSafe Products, discuss the construction of a jaw brace Waller designed and ProSafe manufactures in Grand Junction. Waller hopes to bring her products to a national market over the next 18 to 24 months.

The hastily improvised remedy sufficed for the night, but the Grand Junction woman improved on the concept the next day by purchasing materials a seamstress subsequently assembled into a brace that offered both stability and mobility.

“Pain was my initiative for the design,” Waller says.

Three years later, Waller plans to sell her invention to a potentially large market that includes not only surgical patients, but also those who suffer from pain and headaches related to disorders of the jaw and wear dental appliances at night. There’s also the possibility the brace could help people with sleeping disorders.

“I hope it does for others what it did for me,” Waller says.

Waller serves as chief executive officer of TempOrthotics, a company she founded to sell two types of braces based on her patented design.

Waller has contracted with ProSafe Products, another Grand Junction company, to manufacture the braces. Waller says she was advised to manufacture the braces at a lower cost overseas. “I’d rather pay the extra to stay here,” she says.

Laura Bradford, a woman who shares a similar entrepreneurial story with Waller in founding ProSafe Products, says the braces constitute a good fit for an operation that manufactures fabric covers and garments for the dental, medical and veterinary markets. Bradford hopes the additional contract work bolsters business. “I could use 10 more Cindes,” she says.

Waller says she knows the braces work because she’s long used them herself to recover from surgery and subsequently gain relief from tension headaches.

Waller injured her jaw in a fall in 2003 and discovered three years later damage had occurred in the temporalmandibular joints that connect the lower jaw to the skull. She required surgery to regain movement in her jaw.

Following surgery, Waller says she encountered difficulty sleeping because her jaw would fall open and cause pain. She created a brace with straps that go around the top and back of the head to cradle the jaw. She says her brace helped in not only providing stability and pushing the jaw into the desired forward position, but also allowing for enough mobility to ease muscle spasms and promote healing.

Realizing her invention might help others, Waller applied for and received a patent for the design. Earlier this year, she launched TempOrthotics. Waller says she’s working with ILG, a California-based company that partners with inventors and entrepreneurs to bring new products to market. But she’s also working with the Business Incubator Center in Grand Junction.

In addition, Waller has sought out advice from Bradford, who developed her first products more than 20 years ago while working at a dental office in Grand Junction. Using a sewing machine set up on a dining room table, Bradford invented fitted covers to keep instruments and equipment clean.

Waller and Bradford worked together for about six months tweaking designs for braces that could be readily manufactured, but remain within the parameters of Waller’s patent.

A brace branded the “Stabilizer” is designed for patients who require gentle support, but also the ability to move their jaws. A second brace branded the “Immobilizer” more securely cradles the jaw for situations in which little or no movement is preferred. The braces not only hold the jaw in a forward position, but also allow patients to relax without worrying about unintended jaw movements, Waller says.

The braces are intended primarily for people recovering from jaw surgery, and have been prescribed by Kenneth Perino, an oral surgeon in Grand Junction, Waller says.

The braces also can be used by people who wear dental appliances at night, she says

There’s also the possibility the braces could be used to provide relief to people afflicted with pain and headaches related to disorders of the temporalmandibular joints, she says. In addition, the braces could be used to treat sleeping disorders, such as snoring or apnea.

Waller says the braces have attracted attention for still other uses. “They’re popping up totally by themselves.”

The market for her braces is potentially large, Waller says. By one estimate, nearly 11 million people in the United States suffer from diseases and disorders related to the temporalmandibular joints.

Waller says she hopes to bring her braces to a national market over the next 18 to 24 months. She plans to initially market the braces to oral surgeons, dentists and other health care professionals who treat people with jaw disorders. But she’s also marketing the braces directly to individuals online through her Web site located at www.temporthotics.com.

Bradford says ProSafe Products is prepared to supply braces to meet demand. “We’re ready to go.”

Business has remained steady compared to last year, Bradford says. To a degree, the sales of products for the medical industry persists regardless of the condition of the overall economy. Nonetheless, Bradford says she’d welcome additional contract work.

Since pain is a powerful motivator, Waller says she hopes the ends users of her braces experience the same kind of comfort and relief she experienced after inventing the devices. “I don’t think I could have healed without it.”

 

Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times, a twice-monthly business journal published in Grand Junction. Castle brings to his duties nearly 30 years of experience in editorial management positions with Western Colorado newspapers. In addition, his free-lance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.
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