UNYQ was the recipient of a 2016 Target Challenge award for their novel 3D printed scoliosis bracing technology, UNYQ AlignTM. In this interview with Product Manager, Sean Smith, NEPDC Program Administrator, Cassie Brugger, learned more about the product, UNYQ’s incredible progress, and what it was like to receive support through the Target Challenge award from NEPDC.
Cassie Brugger: As the Product Manager for UNYQ AlignTM, what is most exciting to you about this technology?
Sean Smith: What has been most exciting are the interactions and feedback from the patients and their families when seeing the AlignTM brace for the first time. After receiving their [scoliosis] diagnosis and brace prescription, many patients go online and see the braces that are out there, and really start to question if wearing a brace for 18 or more hours a day over several years is even possible. Then they see the AlignTM brace and it gives them hope.
CB: Align is not the first product from UNYQ, the company also created UNYQ ArmorTM prosthetic covers. Was there anything that came as a surprise when entering into the scoliosis bracing market?
SS: UNYQ was cofounded by Eythor Bender and Manuel Boza, who himself is an amputee, back in 2014 when they launched UNYQ ArmorTM prosthetic covers. UNYQ ArmorTM is helping change the stigma around amputees and prosthetic devices, making the devices more stylish and something the users are proud to show off. You can see real users on UNYQ’s Instagram account. While developing the UNYQ ArmorTM product line was certainly not easy, we were very surprised when we started developing UNYQ AlignTM how challenging it is create a product that is not only custom, but also corrective. There is an incredible amount of experience and expertise required to create an effective scoliosis brace, and these practitioners are doing a great service to help these young patients avoid surgery.
CB: UNYQ has experienced some really exciting growth in the last year expanding offices to Charlotte, securing investments, and showcasing UNYQ AlignTM at the Whitehouse and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum! It is hard to beat a year like that, but can you tell me a little bit about what the company hopes to accomplish over the next year?
SS: We have no shortage of exciting events! UNYQ just hosted its first ‘UNYQ Align Getaway’, September 23rd and 24th at Slide Ranch in Muir Beach, CA. This was a kickoff event for our new Align community, and moving forward UNYQ will be regularly hosting events and supporting a community of Align patients and families to connect and support one another through the bracing experience.
On October 1st UNYQ is being featured in the closing show of San Francisco Fashion Week. The theme is diversity and inclusion, and UNYQ will have 8 ArmorTM and AlignTM users walking in the show. UNYQ will be hitting the runway again in early 2018, this time in New York City on January 31st, showcasing designers and fashion for people with disabilities. Viktoria Modesta will be performing.
UNYQ AlignTM users attend a retreat in Muir Beach, CA
CB: After working with NEPDC through the Target Challenge award, what would you say was the single most helpful thing that the organization offered to UNYQ’s commercialization efforts?
SS: While the value of the funding and consulting hours cannot be underestimated, the perspective that the NEPDC provided was most helpful. After being so immersed in the development of the AlignTM product, I probably started to develop a bit of tunnel vision. Having the NEPDC team, with so much experience developing and commercializing devices, bring a fresh perspective really helped us identify and fix some issues that had a big impact on our commercialization success.
CB: As a 2016 Target Challenge awardee, what piece of advice would you offer to 2017 awardees?
SS: No matter how amazing your product or technology is, at the end of the day it all comes down to delivering value to your customers. Talk to as many of them as you can, understand their problems, and figure out how to solve those problems. Have an open mind and be willing to change your product or business model based on what you are hearing.
Thank you, Sean! All photos featured are courtesy of UNYQ.