Anyone who’s ever been told to do physical therapy exercises at home, alone, will understand why Dan Zondervan ’09 co-founded FlintRehab —and why the company’s website is packed with glad testimonials.
As a graduate student at the University of California, Irvine, Zondervan worked in the lab of David Reinkensmeyer, well known for his research on stroke rehabilitation. Reinkensmeyer challenged his students to develop rehabilitation tools that stroke survivors could afford and use at home.
“It takes thousands of repetitions for the brain to relearn movements lost after a stroke,” Zondervan explained. “Insurance will cover a few weeks of in-clinic physical therapy. After that, people are on their own, following diagrams on a piece of paper. It’s the epitome of boring. It’s no wonder their recovery stalls.”
The challenge was to take the “boring” out of home therapy—affordably. Zondervan teamed with fellow grad student Nizan Friedman to develop MusicGlove, a glove fitted with sensors that track users’ finger movements as they “play” musical notes in a Guitar Hero-style computer game. Patients in a study group performed three times their recommended regimen—and called it “fun.”
Encouraged, the pair developed another tool to exercise the whole body. FitMi uses two hockey puck-like devices that detect movement patterns. The accompanying computer app moves the user through exercises, “like leveling up in a video game,” Zondervan said. Again the testimonials poured in— including the “Best of Show” award at the American Occupational Therapy Association Conference in 2017.
“Reviews on our website have been the key to generating sales,” Zondervan continued. “When someone who’s actually had a stroke vouches for a product, people listen.”
Remembering their mentor’s original challenge, Zondervan and Friedman have kept all their products under $350. The newest, a kind of Fitbit for stroke survivors called MiGo, debuted in January at the Consumer Electronics Show.
For all the success, Zondervan said it hasn’t been easy for two engineers to learn how to run a business. But his Calvin education helped.
“At Calvin, I wasn’t just learning to solve engineering problems. I was learning to solve problems in general, in a holistic way.”
Learn more about FlintRehab’s products at flintrehab.com.