When they met at Google's six-month incubator program in Palo Alto, California in 2011, entrepreneur Monisha Perkash and trained physician and health expert Charles Wang and Andrew Chang did not know that four years later they would receive $10 million in venture capital financing to back their idea of healing the world's dilemma from sitting too long-poor posture.
"I happen to be married to a spine and sports doctor and know how important biomechanics are," Perkash explained."My husband used to scold me for my posture and how I carried my upper neck and shoulder area. Another Google incubator colleague of ours Andrew Chang, who is an engineer by trade, was having chronic back problems and I suggested he take posture classes. The results were life changing for him and he learned how to manage the back pain."
That is when, as Perkash shared, "a light bulb went on." During that time she, Wang and Chang, all part of Runway, Google's six-month incubator program for entrepreneurs, knew they found their idea. Next step? They began to do their research on back problems and found that behind the common cold, spine and back issues are the second highest reason people go see a doctor.
"We had goals as entrepreneurs within the program," Perkash added, noting that a key ingredient for them to move forward on designing a product to help people with back problems was to bring value to society. "We had a personal connection to the cause because of Andrew's debilitating back problems. But, this was not a Cinderella story, and it took a lot of iterations to get the product we created right."
That initial product was Lumo Lift, a small device that clips onto an individual's shirt lapel or blouse right below the collar bone; it tracks posture and activity. Every time a person slouches, a small vibration lets him or her know that optimal posture has not been achieved and he or she needs to readjust.
Patented biomechanic monitoring sensors use angle displacement based on already-calibrated and customized good posture. An app provides feedback on how an individual did during the day, such as how many hours of good posture were accumulated, is recorded.
"We knew what we were doing was creating a technology platform and helping people with back pain get their confidence back, too," explained Perkash. "But we can also address a variety of other movement challenges. Our technology can be applied for proper lifting and bending for warehouse settings."
The leading cause for disability claims for employees under 45 come from back problems, according to Perkash. The cost employers take on in terms of the claims, low morale and health care costs is a big problem.
Co-founder Charles Wang with his co-founder and friend, Andrew Chang, who suffered from back problems for 12 years until he was trained to manage his spine saw the problem employers face.
"A lot of corporations are trying to figure out how to help promote employee health, especially the employees who are sitting in front of terminals all the time," Chang noted and stated how the role of biomechanics assists within the workplace.
"Biomechanics is a way to help improve people. And the actual way a product shows up, like this small sensor on the body, for example, helps to understand how individuals are behaving. That is the key and core to our technology."
Employers that utilize Lumo Body Tech's Lumo Lift include social media giant Facebook, Inc., and Cisco, Inc., a worldwide leader in information technology.
Daniel Lord, in-house chiropractor, Facebook, and physical medicine lead with Crossover Health whose on-site clinic rests on Facebook's campus, says that the number one malady seen at on-site clinics is back and neck pain.
"We teach people how to move better and how to get stronger so they are independent of us but yes, it's safe to say that neck pain and back pain are the chief complaints," Lord said. "There's a lot of value when people are the CEO of their own health and not dependent on a pillor a treatment."
Crossover, Lord explained, is "growing a ton" and had one chiropractor in the medical group at first and, as Lord shared, "we have over 20 physical medicine providers in our integrated clinics (DC's, PT's and Acupuncture) that all work together very closely." His team has been on site at Facebook for three-and-a-half years.
Lord said that Crossover Health uses new technology like the Lumo Lift and integrates physical therapy and chiropractic treatments as part of its overall plan to improve spine health of employees at their work-site clinics.
"The device vibrates and reminds the person to sit up tall or change position- and it tracks movement this is so important for habit change and rehabbing back pain," Lord added.
Dr. William Updyke, on-site chiropractor at a high tech Fortune 100 company in Silicon Valley, California, said he heard about Lumo Lift from another chiropractor, tried the devices out on a group of patients and received their feedback.
"We followed them from a clinical perspective and it seemed that most of the people with shoulder, middle back and neck problems were the people who really improved," Updyke said. "We will keep using them. We provide the devices to our patients for a period of time, on loan, and they give them back to us and then purchase one on their own."
When does the Lumo Lift not Work?
"It does not work for people who are not willing to utilize the device," he said. "If you are not a device person or only mildly interested in using them, it won't work-but that is definitely not the majority."
Having better posture also reduces stress levels and offers higher energy levels. Better breathing, digestion and circulation are key benefactors to focusing on improving posture. Vital organs are affected, too, according to Perkash.
"Hormones are associated with confidence and power," she said. "How you hold yourself not only changes you externally it changes your internal chemistry. As entrepreneurs we are excited that we got to satisfy our entrepreneurial spirit to do something bold that has a positive effect on employees. We care passionately about solving real problems for as many people as we can."
And financiers have taken notice. A 2015 venture capital financing deal landed series B $10 million in capital for the company to continue expanding its efforts.
"A lot of what is understood today about our bodies is a one size fits all and with Lumo technology we can specifically target a lot more people," Perkash noted. "For other entrepreneurs out there, you're going to have a lot of well-meaning naysayers discouraging you and reminding you why it's so hard. There's so many chances of failure and you're going to have days where it seems nothing is going to work. You have to have that vision. You have to believe in yourself and surround yourself with a team you believe in."
Lumo Body Tech's co-founders made wrong assumptions in its beginnings but credits knowing that what they were doing was right to help people with chronic back pain heal kept them going.
"We say, 'fail early, fail often, fail forward,'" Perkash advised. "Those early failures helped us get on the right track. Mistakes are a lot cheaper to make when made early. We don't have direct competition."
Competition is slim to none-standing desks and other ergonomically-designed furniture or hardware are complements to Lumo Body Tech products. Perkash reminds people who sit at desks all doneThe one caveat:
"You can have the fanciest, most expensive ergonomically-designed desk but if you're sitting poorly in them, you're not getting any benefit from these wonderful tools," she said. "For us, there are a lot more complementary products than competitive."