There is not much that is more nerve wracking than quitting a job, taking out a big loan and going into business for oneself. The risks are great, but the rewards can be greater when starting a business from scratch. Richard Myers, LeRoy Cynkar, CO, and Greg Mattson, RTPO, have all been through the process and come out the other side successful.
Prosthetic Foot Manufacturer
Freedom Innovations is one of the most recent start-ups to make an impact on the O&P industry. Along with the successful launch of its first three products, the company has recently unveiled several others and has grown from one employee to 10 employees. The company was incorporated in April 2002 and debuted its first product line at the American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association (AOPA) meeting in October of the same year.
“We had set a clear goal that we wanted to launch the company at AOPA, even though we had less than six months to prepare. In that time, we had to organize everything. We had to develop a prosthetist list for clinicals, finalize and test designs, establish a solid brand, get our advertising up and running, not to mention plan all the show details,” said Myers, the chief operating officer of Freedom Innovations in Corona, Calif. “A lot of creative work had to be done. As most people would say, successful companies are primarily about the people and secondarily about the technology. If you’ve got the right team in place, you can accomplish a lot in a short time.”
Myers said that the opportunity to work closely with the people in the O&P industry and to provide technology that was new and innovative were his primary motivations for starting the company.
“My inspiration stemmed from discussions with Roland Christensen. Dr. Christensen has been inventing prosthetic components for almost 17 years, and had developed innovative concepts about how to help amputees in ways that current prosthetic devices cannot,” he said. “It sounded like an exciting opportunity from a technological standpoint and would allow me to help amputees push their own limits and obtain their goals.”
Myers continues to be inspired by the people he works with and credits them in large part for the company’s success. “Our company is a real testament to the saying, ‘When you have the right people and good technology, you can achieve miraculous results,’” he said.
One might think that starting a small O&P practice would be simpler than starting a national prosthetic foot manufacturer. This is not necessarily the case. As Cynkar can attest, his experience was not an easy stroll into a successful business. Orthotic Prosthetic Solutions was founded in 2001 when Cynkar, Brent Tyson, CP, and Kurt Renschenberg, PT, CPed, decided to go into business together. Based in Fort Collins, Colo., the business is formatted as an LLC, which allows independent practitioners to join yet maintain ownership of their own practices. The company operates a central billing office in Fort Collins.
“The office handles the administrative work for us, the contracting, billing and accounts receivable, etc. It does all the administrative parts for us. It structures our compliance program — all those things are done. It allows us to practice and do what we do best. We are all focused on orthotics and prosthetics, not the business part of it. It allows and encourages the owners to develop their own practices as much as they can.”
This was important to Cynkar, who wanted to start his own practice partly because it enabled him to have more control over the practice, how it is run and how patient care is carried out.
“The other reason was that as I dealt with the corporate structure at my former job, I realized the corporate structure really doesn’t have a place in medicine,” he said. Although he and his partners had strong ideas about the kind of company they wanted to start, Cynkar said there are a few things he would have done differently.
“I would have structured it a little differently,” he said. “Originally, we weren’t looking at the LLC structure, but as we grew with our practice in Fort Collins, other practitioners wanted to join us. That is when we really need to change our structure to a limited liability corporation so we could bring in people and still let them have the independence they want.”
Cynkar is philosophical about the process and its difficulties, however.
“A lot of things I learned from the school of hard knocks,” he said.
Fabtech Systems was founded in 2000 after cofounder and president Mattson realized he was the type of person who needed to work for himself.
“I spent a lot of years working for other organizations, and it is hard to rise up in other organizations when you know what you want to do. I was looking for the freedom to do what I want to do and how I want to do it,” he said.
With Scott Tracewell and Dave Hughes, CPO, on board as partners, they began the difficult process of making a business out of an idea. They discovered the key to their success was in becoming a company that not only fabricates and supplies to the industry, but is actively involved in the industry. In addition, the company has focused on becoming streamlined and efficient.
“We have an organized business structure,” Mattson said. “We have a plan for growth, where we are going. It is a roadmap for where we want to be. If you don’t have that, you never know when you’ve arrived.
“Part of this structure is hiring the right people, not just settling for a person working for you. We want team members working along side of us. We really go the extra mile to find people who can embody what our company is.
“It is important to get the right people,” he said. “I can’t change people so it is important to spend the extra time and money getting the right person in that position. That makes all the difference.”
Working Toward the Goal
Starting a business obviously requires hard work, but sometimes the amount of work that is necessary can be daunting and even overwhelming. Start-up businesses require constant attention, with only a few people performing the duties of many.
“I knew it was going to be hard work, but I really didn’t understand the amount of work — that I’d be working, come home and work on the computer until midnight,” said Mattson.
Myers also found that starting a business required a great deal of work and more than he had bargained.
“There is a significant amount of work that needs to be done in order for the product to perform at a high level,” he said. “And then you work on developing the contacts and the customer base through consultants and speaking with amputees and prosthetists and just start from scratch. They are all difficult from the standpoint that it doesn’t seem like it would take much time but it just is a tremendous amount of effort in order to get it done.”
Mattson believes the rewards of starting a business are worth every extra hour spent working.
“It is worth it,” he said. “What I’m learning now I can take with me for the rest of my life.”
Advice for Hopefuls
While these three individuals have made successful attempts at starting a business, they admit the process has been challenging and not always perfect.
“There are a million things I would have done differently,” Mattson said. “The list could be a mile long. You learn through trial and error. You realize you have to have 100 percent faith what you are doing. When you start a company, you can’t back out and quit. It’s not like working for somebody. You have obligations to people now; you have responsibility. You just can’t walk away.”
With this in mind, Mattson said that everyone starting a business should be aware of exactly what it is they are getting into.
“For anybody starting a company, I would recommend they do whatever it takes to get that training or learning about what it takes to run a company before they actually do it just so they have an idea of what it is going to take out of them,” he said.
According to Cynkar, the most important thing anyone can do in starting his or her own business is focus on service.
“They need to distinguish themselves from their competitors,” Cynkar said. “They need to remember why they are doing what they are doing. They are helping people, and that requires time, effort and concern on their part. If they do that, their business will grow.”
Despite the challenges and the hard work involved, Myers believes that starting a business is an exciting and worthwhile endeavor.
“It is easy to be focused because ultimately you know you are trying to get products out on the market,” he said. “It is a wonderful time in your life. It is important to make sure you carefully monitor your resources. Make sure you know how much is in your checking account, know how much will be in it tomorrow and make sure you’ve got the right team in place. The people are absolutely critical. And make sure you have good technology. With those things in play, I think businesses have a good chance of being successful. Business owners starting out can look forward to a fun and wild ride.”— by Lauren Green