In the Groove

In the Groove

Every Business Finds Its “Groove”

January 2012

Sometimes, businesses are started simply out of necessity.  Businesses are born out of entrepreneurs who could not find a solution for their problems in the market.  Subsequently, they invented their own solution and a business was created.  Alice Brown is one of those entrepreneurs.  Facing extraordinary adversity, Brown overcame her obstacles to develop one of Michigan’s most exciting growing businesses, In The Groove®, while providing better medical care to those with knee injuries.

Alice Brown’s story is an inspiring one.  Brown is a pharmacist who several years ago, was involved in a horrible car accident on her way to work one day.

“I was hit head on by a car trying to avoid hitting a semi that pulled out in the fog.  Jaws of life were used to extricate me from the wreck that saved my life – the safety belts and air bags worked.  I suffered multiple injuries to all four limbs including physically breaking the steering wheel with my hands, crushing my foot on the gas pedal and my knees were crushed by the firewall, along with other minor injuries when my hand went through the driver’s side window and my head, with the airbag, hit the front window.  I was told I would never walk after foot reconstruction.”

After two years of many surgeries and physical therapy, she was able to walk again…albeit slowly.  However, Brown reinjured her knee doing the recovery process and was again limited to a wheel chair.  She was told she would need knee surgery.

AliceBrown-4-300x199“Since I had so many surgeries and had great results with physical therapy, I asked to go there first,” recalled Brown.  Her therapist, Mel Svorinik, did a maneuver, the Mulligan Mobilization with Movement Glide that realigned her leg and allowed her to walk without knee pain, but this only lasted 20-30 minutes.  “I went home, cut up braces, took carpal tunnel stays out of others, shaped them and made a brace that allowed me to walk the whole time I wore it.  I walked into the next physical therapy appointment and Mel asked to see what I made, then he told me to patent it. I did and that is what started this journey.”

Brown had limited business experience, so she decided to get some help.  In April 2006, she was referred to the Great Lakes Bay regional office of the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC).  She began working with Deb Wieland, a small business consultant. Wieland helped her join the local inventors group and gave her a listing of programs that were available on learning how to start and grow a business.

So, Brown got to work starting the business.  With a lot of help, Brown was able to secure a patent, find local manufacturers to assemble the product, and secure distribution with a few medical supply companies.  The business started to gather attention.  She entered the GLEQ business plan competition and placed 3rd in Best New Business.  Brown brought on more people to help with sales and they identified new markets like chiropractic and the military.  Sales have increased to the point that they are having growing pains and had to find other subcontractors to handle the increase in volume.

Wieland continued to mentor Brown with growing the business.  She helped her save costs on shipping by identifying new suppliers, contact subcontractors in Michigan, meet with prospective buyers, and contact additional financiers when they were turned down by two banks.  Brown appreciates the work that the MI-SBTDC provided.

“It was one of the best business decisions I ever made, to work with MI-SBTDC Great Lakes Bay regional office,” exclaimed Brown.  “Their programs, associations and staff are amazing at providing resources, courses available and both mentoring and support as appropriate.  With their help, I was able to keep the business in Michigan and use local suppliers and subcontractors.”

She went on to recognize her work with Wieland, “I was very lucky to be assigned to Debra Wieland who has continued to work with me from the beginning both officially and as a ‘friendly’ and honest ‘ear’ when I have problems or want to ‘tell the world’ great news.”

The business is doing great.  Recently, In The Groove® received the 2011 award for Best Small Business for the Great Lakes Bay region and Brown wants to continue to grow.

“We would like continued growth to redefine the brace industry to one that can improve people’s lives by keeping their independence, reduce suffering and help save money for individuals and governments, all while providing better medical care.”

Despite the setbacks, Brown has not given in. Her persistence is a testament to all entrepreneurs who face uphill battles.  To them, she has some advice.  “Get professional help and I mean business…early; learn all you can about business and partner with people who have skills you do not, to make your business succeed.  Above all, follow your dreams, but make sure you do a reality check before jumping off the cliff,” noted Brown.

“This is not for the faint of heart or someone who just wants a 9 to 5 job.  Many of the most successful businesses do not have patents, but all successful businesses know how to do business, watch their bottom line, keep growing and keep current.  If you do not, you and your business will eventually wither on the vine.”

Learn more about In the Groove.