If you’ve ever been on crutches, you know the problem. They’re uncomfortable, awkward, and make it almost impossible to do everyday tasks.
And that’s not all. Not only is mobility affected when you struggle with crutches, muscles atrophy when they’re not used for walking, slowing down the healing process.
Enter iWALKFree, Inc., the only company in the world manufacturing and distributing a hands-free crutch substitute. Sales of the iWALKFree device across multiple channels are skyrocketing and there’s no shortage of consumers who are happy to ditch the crutches.
Here’s the story of how this unique product came to the market and what the future holds for iWALKFree.
Brad Hunter is the Chief Executive Officer of iWALKFree. He knows first-hand how using crutches can negatively affect your life. Hunter suffered a serious ankle sprain and quickly realized the limitations of crutches when trying to maneuver out of the doctor’s office door. When he had to crawl on the floor to give his dog a bowl of water, he was desperate to find a better way to get around with his injury.
Hunter purchased a traditional walking boot off of Craigslist but the seller also showed him a product that would end up changing Hunter’s life. “The guy had one of the first versions of the iWALK,” he says. “It was a good idea but not fully evolved. I bought it and it was a game changer.” He thought “Why is this thing not everywhere?”
Hunter went from practically an invalid on the couch to being able to complete tasks he needed to get through the day, including going up and down stairs. Hunter says, “I immediately understood the value of the device. I couldn’t walk a block without a random stranger asking about it. I knew there was an opportunity here that sprung from my visceral hatred of crutches.”
Once he discovered the iWALK, he set out to learn more. The first device was invented by a Canadian farmer who broke his ankle and couldn’t tend to his farm on crutches. When kneeling on a stool to shave, he thought up the original iWALKFree design and crafted the first version out of wood.
After connecting with a teaching hospital that had a program dedicated to medical device research, he turned the iWALK into a company, raising money from family and friends. Hunter tells the rest of the story.
“As with most startups, the business faced some significant challenges early on. To keep the business alive, the founder eventually moved the entire operation into his barn. Without advertising or any marketing efforts, he kept the business on life support for a decade.” Hunter had vowed to himself that he wouldn’t try another start up business but he immediately thought, “I can do this, I know what to do.”
Before making the leap to restructure iWALKFree, Hunter had a successful career in corporate America as an accountant.
“I was good at it,” he reports, “but I hated it. It was way too passive and boring. I was on the sidelines, not making things happen.” His next career move was as an independent bookkeeper, accountant, and controller for companies ranging from mom-and-pop startups to Fortune 500 corporations. “I helped take companies to the next level, that was my niche. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset,” he says. “I wanted to learn why people succeed and fail.”
After that, Hunter opened his first manufacturing company, making high-end cycling wheels. In four years, the company grew from obscurity to become a globally recognized brand. This company was sold to Easton Sports, which left Hunter with enough spare time to contemplate what his next career move would be.
After performing his due diligence and crunching the numbers, he took the reins of the Canadian company, got to work with a small team and created a 2nd version – the iWALK2.0. With the iWALK2.0, you use upper leg, from the hip to the knee, as you always have for walking, which allows you to navigate any space, even stairs while remaining hands free. There are clinical benefits as well.
“If you aren’t using your muscles, they shrink on a daily basis,” Hunter says. “A month in a cast diminishes strength and muscle mass significantly. Your muscles fire when using an iWALKFree crutch, and the contracting muscles increase blood flow, essential for healing, especially bones. This opens the door for faster and more efficient healing. There’s simply no other product like this in the world.”
The iWALKFree won’t work for everyone but the website clearly outlines the specifics.
Before their injury, users must have been able to easily walk up and down stairs without using a handrail and balance on one foot for a full 30 seconds. If you can do these two things, then you have the strength and balance required to use the iWALK. When used properly, the device is safer than crutches and the company has never had a product liability claim.
“We exploit all distribution channels,” says Hunter. “The iWALK crutch is sold in over 30 countries, both B2B and B2C. We sell to medical supply stores, through 3rd party e-commerce sites, to independent online sellers, and direct to consumers. We currently handle it all with only 5 people on staff.”
Bradford is the SmartBiz® Relationship Manager who worked with Hunter during the application process.
He says, “What makes my job so enjoyable is working with business owners like Brad. He is extremely passionate and driven, and his business is making the world a better place!” Bradford worked with Hunter to secure a bank term loan from a SmartBiz marketplace bank. “We secured a non-SBA loan for the business because it was a faster process due to the business structure. The bank term loan has an interest rate below 10%, which is competitive with an SBA loan.”
One reason the application to funding time was favorable is because Hunter is fanatical about finances. He was ready to go and only had to update his paperwork. “I put systems in place based on my prior experience. I know where my financials stand every single day to the second so I can make real time decisions. We have the agility to respond as conditions change.”
The funds from his $300,000 loan will help grow the company and lighten his load. “I’m working 80 to 90-hour weeks back-to-back and am facing some bandwidth limitations,” says Hunter. “I’ll use some of the proceeds for staffing and to purchase more inventory.”
Television personality Mario Lopez and superstar Harrison Ford have both ditched the crutches for an iWALKFree.
Despite the long days, Hunter hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for his business and encourages other entrepreneurs to look at the big picture. “It’s been a long journey. It’s hard when you’re entrenched in the day-to-day operations to come up for air and look at how far you’ve come. Five years ago, this product didn’t exist. Now I’ll be out in public and see an iWALK and I’ll think, OK, we’re making progress.”