Nationwide and BlueVine’s Pitch to Win Contest Grand Prize Winner
Diana Elizabeth Hall, President & COO, ActivArmor
Nationwide and BlueVine partnered on a contest for small business owners called Pitch to Win. The goal is to help owners with compelling concepts take their businesses to the next level. In June, owners entered the contest before submitting a video pitch in August. In October, finalists pitched live at Nationwide's headquarters in Columbus, Ohio.
Seven finalists came to Columbus, Ohio dreaming of the capital that could change their small business forever, but only one walked away with $100,000. ActivArmor, the first commercially available 3D printed casting and splinting company in the United States, was named the first ever grand prize winner of Nationwide and Bluevine’s Pitch to Win contest. The Pueblo, Colorado-based company considers its products - hygienic, waterproof, breathable, and custom-designed immobilization devices - to be precise, digital medicine that improves quality of life for patients.
While traditional casts can introduce additional challenges to the healing process, ActivArmor’s technology helps to eliminate those complications. Typical casts are not waterproof, and bacteria can become trapped underneath due to how bulky and stuffy they are. In comparison, ActivArmor can be worn in the water, and is much more lightweight and breathable. Their casts reduce odor and irritation as well as presenting a much more modern design.
Asked why she started ActivArmor, President and Chief Operating Officer Diana Elizabeth Hall explained, “I ran a mentoring program for children in poverty with domestic violence and poor living conditions. Their dirty, smelly, soggy casts made it impossible to play and wash and swim.”
She talked about how one young child who lived with his disabled grandparents took a shower with his cast and forgot to wrap it in a plastic bag. The child didn’t have transportation to replace it when it got wet, and the moisture was trapped against his skin. Sadly, he was left with permanent scars as a result. Additionally, Hall encountered an impoverished young girl, whose cast had become infested with bed bugs after sleeping on the floor of her home. Hall saw a major need for improvement, and realized, “Wow, I need to do this.”
“I have made it my mission to improve the quality of life of children, the elderly - all those needing immobilization,” she said.
A young boy demonstrates ActivArmor’s waterproof capabilities
As it turns out, that’s a lot of people, ranging from babies to NFL players. According to ActivArmor's presentation, there are over 21 million cases requiring immobilization per year in the United States alone. This includes sports recovery, sprains and breaks, and carpal tunnel a market which has 3D printing has not yet penetrated.
To come up with the technology and designs, Hall put her chemical engineering degree and MBA to work, using the same plastic found in Legos to create the next generation cast.
“I’m an engineer. Let’s make it better as well as fun,” she said.
Hall explains ActivArmor during Pitch to Win using a custom-fit sample
Naturally, bringing such an ambitious vision to life is never smooth sailing. ActivArmor initially faced technological, design, and regulatory issues, but Hall worked with orthopedic surgeons and the FDA to overcome those hurdles. Now, ActivArmor has been biocompatibility tested, is listed as a Class 1 splint with the FDA, and is covered by private insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid. In addition, they recently signed a pricing agreement with the largest insurance processor for most professional teams. Over 50 physicians across the country have prescribed ActivArmor so far, and they hope that number will continue to grow despite obstacles.
Although they have refined their technology, the next challenge facing the company is accessibility. ActivArmor currently has eleven clinics that are able to administer their casts, with nine more in the pipeline. As the contest winner, the $100,000 they received will go a long way towards improving their national presence. They plan to open five more clinics this year with the prize money, growing their footprint to include an additional five major metropolitan areas.
This expansion means access to more people who may benefit from an ActivArmor solution, as distance from a providing clinic is a large barrier for many potential patients. The creation of the custom casts is much more complicated than that of a standard cast. It requires a high-tech scanner, custom design, fabrication and finishing steps. The resulting turnaround time is often several days, whereas a traditional cast can be applied on the spot. A patient must return to pick up and be fitted with the cast, and the driving distance to the nearest clinic can be problematic in rural or international areas. This process makes an ActivArmor cast more difficult to offer without widespread adoption, as it is custom-produced rather than an inventory product. The company frequently receives international calls, with doctors or clinics currently needing to purchase an entire package to manufacture the casts since shipping time and costs would be prohibitive. However, ActivArmor hopes to open their first Canadian clinic soon.
Hall receives her check for $100,000 from Nationwide Property & Casualty President and COO Mark Berven, BlueVine Founder and CEO Eyal Lifshitz, and hosts Jann Carl and Rodney Miller
When asked what advice she has for entrepreneurs starting out, Hall said, “If you feel it's your mission, you'll do it.” Even in the excitement of being named the Pitch to Win grand prize winner, Hall never lost sight of her mission and the children who inspired her. The $100,000 grant will allow 5% of her sales to go toward children without private health insurance.
She also offered some words of encouragement for those who may be having a for those who may be at a difficult stage in their small business journey. “There’s a fine line between being a successful entrepreneur and being crazy, and we tend to trip over that line.”
In other words, although it is easy to allow doubt and questioning to challenge your hope, Hall is proof that pairing a great product with the passion to see it through can truly make a difference.