Carnegie Mellon University

Kelly Collier (B.S. 2011) Launches a Business Based on a BME Student Project

Most BME students enjoy the senior-year Biomedical Engineering Design course, where they work in teams to develop a product. But for Kelly Collier (B.S. 2011), the class was literally life-changing. “I was planning to earn my Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins after graduation,” recalls Collier. “Instead, I became so inspired by our product that I founded a company — ActivAided Orthotics — to commercialize it.”

In August 2012, the company officially launched the RecoveryAid— posture training apparel designed for people with back pain and spine disorders. “Our product is unique in that it relieves pain, while passively teaching people how to correct their bad habits, such as poor posture or straining movements,” Collier explains. “The RecoveryAid can not only help rehabilitate a back injury, but also train the body to prevent future injuries.”

The device was developed with support from Dr. Gary Chimes, a doctor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, as well as a national expert on spine care and sports medicine. Chimes is the Chief Medical Advisor for ActivAided Orthotics, while Collier is Chief Executive Officer.

BME: A Powerful Incubator

According to Collier, the collaborative environment of BME was the perfect place to create this groundbreaking product.

“When our team brainstormed ideas, we discovered we had a shared history of back injuries, because we were athletes in addition to being biomedical, mechanical, chemical and materials engineers,” remembers Collier. “Because of the diverse make-up of our team, we could contribute different perspectives. That diversity of viewpoints enabled us to solve many problems —for example, fundamental usability issues with how patients might interact with the product. We would not have arrived at answers so quickly if we all came from the same discipline.”

The team was supported in its work by two BME faculty mentors with equally diverse backgrounds, Professors James Antaki and Conrad Zapanta. “When they realized we were serious about commercializing the product, they offered the resources and advice we needed,” says Collier. “Since founding the company, I have continued to turn to them for counsel, and they have always been there.”

An Engineer at Heart

All indications point to the success of the RecoveryAid. In beta tests with 50 actual back pain patients, the brace provided short-term pain relief to 90 percent of users. Eighty-five percent experienced long-term relief.

A patent is pending, and the product is being distributed locally. Physicians are writing prescriptions for the RecoveryAid, which retails for $279 and is often covered by insurance companies.

As CEO, Kelly Collier’s immediate concern is expanding distribution to a broader geographic area. But she is also setting her sights on the future.

“The RecoveryAid is our flagship product, but it will not be our only product,” predicts Collier. “I’m an engineer at heart, and I will continue to work toward our mission of keeping people active and pain-free by developing new products beyond back pain, using the problem-solving methods I learned in BME. I hope to develop new solutions for other injuries, using the same concept of rehabilitation through training and correcting body mechanics.  If I can do that, I will consider myself successful.”

Written by Cindy Fusco

Read the news about Kelly's award from the U.S. Small Business Administration.