Sometimes all we need is a new perspective or a new set of eyes to discover an important problem to be solved. Scott Dickenson, an Orthopedic Clinical Specialist three years out of the University of Southern California Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program, has found a solution to a problem as the inventor and owner of a startup focused on neck rehabilitation and strength training.
Scott had personal experience with this field when he was injured in high school and required physical therapy. He was inspired by the interpersonal relationships that therapists can achieve with their individual clients. Soon after he started his first clinical experiences as a physical therapy student, Scott was quick to observe that neck rehabilitation was quite basic and limited while good quality, well-designed equipment was available for other body regions.
“Once I started treating physical therapy patients, it became obvious there was a scarcity of neck exercises to get my patients better,” Scott tells us. He watched them performing dull motions, including chin tucks and routine exercises using commodity household and gym items such as towels, small balls, resistance bands and pillows. Scott was convinced, “As physical therapists, [we] could do better for our patients.”
In his eyes, it was time for something new, something physical therapists would be proud to offer and use.
THE PATH TO SUCCESS
Scott had an idea for a portable, versatile device designed specifically for neck pain relief, muscle strengthening and neck mobility. This would allow ‘one stop treatment’ alleviating the need to determine which exercises and gadgets his patients needed to make the discomfort go away.
The NecksLevel product concept delivers one stand-alone approach for neck therapy, with the patient in the supine (flat on the back) position to reduce or eliminate compression in the affected area. In this way, the body has better tolerance for the exercises vs. sitting or standing.
Neck pain is reported annually among 30% of all adults, almost half of which continue to experience chronic or frequent neck pain. Patients complain of related symptoms such as headaches, difficulty turning the neck, muscle spasms, neck stiffness as well as weakness in the arms, hands or fingers.*
Scott worked diligently through 2019-2020 developing his first prototype, submitting a utility patent application, and registering his new company, NecksLevel, LLC. His goal was clear: to streamline neck rehabilitation for physical therapists, chiropractors and the patients they serve. There are over 30,000 clinics that can benefit from this solution in the US.
By the time the first NecksLevel device was ready, the COVID pandemic crisis interrupted Scott’s progress due to quarantines and business closures. As a result, physical therapists were working with significantly restricted patient volumes and did not have the time to evaluate a new product, such as the NecksLevel.
By May 2020, Scott reached out to SCORE for a virtual mentoring session.
HOW SCORE HELPED
Scott met Kent McCune, long-time SCORE mentor, early in the stages of his invention. Kent helped “me understand the business world and gave me a list of important things to consider like my direction and focus for this new company,” Scott shared. Acting as ‘quarterback,’ Kent brought together a team of SCORE subject matter experts to help.
Kent encouraged Scott to analyze additional market segments to find new sales opportunities and review competition to avoid conflict with the company name. Charlie Espenlaub provided guidance on marketing direction, customer feedback, and shared expertise in plastics design. Ruder Schill assisted with business planning and medical device insights. Paul Prestia, an attorney, added important guidance about US and foreign patents. Salah Abdelhamid enabled a connection to an industry design and manufacture expert who contributed engineering and technical support at no charge, recognizing the challenges of the young entrepreneur.
With this support and knowledgeable market input, Scott landed his first sale in July 2020, while at the same time developing multiple units of a second-generation device ready by Fall of the same year. At the start of 2021, NecksLevel began selling to clinics and professional sports teams and launched the new company’s website mid-year.
He was able to conduct a well-planned accelerated introduction in a most unpredictable marketplace, while navigating a pandemic crisis. The SCORE team estimated over 40 ZOOM meetings and a few in-person sessions were completed to accomplish this work together.
The ultimate testimonial is Scott’s perspective: “NecksLevel would be nowhere near as strong today without the regular support and advice that I get from my SCORE mentors.”
NecksLevel continues to sell well with PT clinics across the country where multiple clients can use the device at the same location, day in and day out.
The research and pursuit of the pro sports teams was enlightening. Athletes have the highest number of injuries to various parts of their bodies, including the head and neck area. They have a significant need for pain relief and clear opportunities to strengthen muscles.
Implementing a successful email campaign, Scott found his first sports team clients networking with former professors, mentors, and contacts especially close to home in the Greater Philadelphia area. Sometimes he mailed a letter of introduction. He contacted many teams by reaching out to key decision makers including sports medicine staff, athletic trainers, and physical therapists.
Currently, NecksLevel has sales with the National Football League (NFL), National Hockey League (NHL), Major League Baseball (MLB) and Ultimate Fighting Championship organization (UFC). Scott tells us there are about 150 pro sports teams in the US, an attractive target market for his solution.
Another prospect segment is the Formula One international racing teams. Initially, Scott communicated directly to drivers through Instagram. He quickly learned that each driver has a Performance Coach who is the decision maker regarding therapy and strength training.
Customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Patient users describe their experience with NecksLevel as ‘magic,’ ‘easiest PT ever’ and ‘game-changing’! One customer, a doctor of physical therapy, says it best: “NecksLevel is ingenious. It is a versatile device that incorporates neuromuscular training, mobility, and strengthening.”
With a strong start in the past two years, despite all the roadblocks with COVID, Scott is enthusiastic about 2022 with clear plans for revenue growth and developing a team. He is working to qualify additional suppliers for critical parts and secure the company’s patent positions to increase sales nationally and abroad.
PAYING IT FORWARD
Scott’s curiosity, tenacity and resilience are great lessons for young aspiring entrepreneurs. To recognize a gap in client service and a genuine unmet need at such an early career stage is inspiring.
In Scott’s words: “Entrepreneurship is often a lonely, scary, and anxiety-provoking venture, but maintaining contacts that you can lean on will make the experience worthwhile so long as you are building the company around a product you believe in.”
At the same time, Scott is humble when it comes to understanding everything about business and shares these ‘words of wisdom’ for anyone planning to jump into the small business arena.
- “Lean on your network – people want to help you.”
- “Put yourself out there. People know other people who can help you.”
- “Schedule that SCORE meeting. I get ideas from every single interaction.”
* About Back/Spine, Neck, and Shoulder Pain - The Statistics, https://www.practicalpainmanagement.com, and Common Neck Injuries from Tri-Health.