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Dalhousie neuroscience PhD student and Brain Repair Centre member Chris Cowper-Smith has embarked on a commercial venture that uses small springs to deliver big gains to people with knee problems. He and his business partners have developed a spring-loaded knee brace—Levitation™—which will be widely available in 2015 through their new company, Spring Loaded Technology.

“Unlike typical knee braces, which can in some cases be heavy and make movement more difficult, the Levitation knee brace uses springs to send energy back to the user, making movement easier,” explains Chris, who is CEO of Spring Loaded Technology. “In addition to stabilizing the knee to prevent further injury, Levitation can effectively enhance strength by increasing the output of leg-muscle contraction. The result is a product that can allow the person wearing it to move more freely with less effort.”

As a neuroscientist, Chris is intrigued by Levitation’s potential to help people who are struggling with mobility due to a neurological condition, such as stroke. In fact, he’s working with his PhD co-supervisor, kinesiology professor and BRC member Dr. David Westwood, to learn more about limb movements and how the brace could be adapted for a wider range of movement disorders. Levitation™ will be equally helpful to injured athletes, people with osteoarthritis, and even healthy people seeking to boost their performance—literally—in sports or physically demanding labour.

Since launching Spring Loaded in late 2012, Chris and his partners—Dalhousie business grad and hockey star Shea Kewin, and engineer and mathematician Bob Garrish—have been on the ride of their lives. They’ve developed initial prototypes, built a solid patent portfolio, attracted more than $1 million in financing from a combination of private and government sources, and won numerous business competitions. Most recently, Spring Loaded Technology came first in the 2013 BioInnovation Challenge, BioNova’s fiercely fought annual competition, which provides the winning start-up with $15,000 in cash and $20,000 worth of legal, marketing, planning and other crucial services.

Chris credits two Dalhousie-based training programs for Spring Loaded’s early success—and even its very existence. After completing the BRC-sponsored RADIANT-CREATE neurotechnology entrepreneurship program in the summer of 2013, he enrolled in Starting Lean, an intensive course that focuses on clearly defining customer needs to start a successful business on a shoestring. That’s where he met Shea Kewin, whose hockey-related knee injury had inspired him to build a business based on an energy-returning knee brace. Once they found and recruited Bob Garrish to design and fabricate a prototype, they were on their way.

“I’ve had a longstanding interest in shortening the distance between research and commercialization,” notes Chris. “I gained fundamental insights and skills through the RADIANT CREATE program, which I refined through Starting Lean and which we are now expanding upon every day, as we do what it takes to get our knee brace manufactured and into the hands of the people it can help most.”

Photo: Chris Cowper-Smith (centre), David Westwood (right), Tim Gravelle (left)

Stay tuned for more stories featuring the important work of our Brain Repair Centre researchers.

Wednesday the 13th. © 2017. All rights reserved.. Bridgewater Media Services