Ph.D.’s biomimetic devices heal the world… ankles first
To be at the top of their game, many athletes need to condition their feet and ankles. And, whether it’s from a soccer foul or slipping on their kid’s toy car as they hurry to work, anyone with an ankle injury needs a way to recover. Yet when Dr. Marien Zanyk worked in physical therapy and orthopedic device consulting, she was surprised to discover no exercise or physical therapy devices specifically for feet and ankles.
“Feet and ankles are really underserved,” she said. “There’s nothing that applies to multiple needs, for many diagnoses, and for pre- and post-game workouts.” Zanyk was on the hunt for a device that orthopedic patients could use to stretch their feet and ankles. She found nothing, so she took matters into her own hands. Now her company, ZANEEZ, makes AnkleSTONE®, an orthopedic device crafted especially for conditioning, protecting and revitalizing the feet and ankles.
From runs through the forest to a product professional athletes love
Connecticut’s State Forest inspired ZANEEZ’s products. While recovering from a knee injury, Zanyk used the forest’s trees and rocks to stretch her joints and strengthen her muscles. She based her first ZANEEZ concept, the tree-shaped WillowWORX® exercise platform, on the mountain laurel – the state tree of Connecticut.
“Growing up Ukrainian with an engineering background, I always bring humor and a solution-minded way to a problem. I’m always thinking and seeing things differently,” Zanyk said.
That creative perspective led her to look at moss-covered rocks and see not only nature’s beauty but also a solution to the ankle-shaped hole in the market.
“The geometry of life and nature is so efficient,” Zanyk said. “When you do an Achilles tendon stretch on AnkleSTONE for the first time, you feel it all the way up the back of the leg to your lower back. And that’s just the first move. Clients say it’s the best stretch they’ve ever had.”
AnkleSTONE is close to commercialization. WillowWORX, BedROK® (a whole-body conditioning device) and BaseROK® (a platformed mat) will soon follow. Zanyk has used FORGE to source manufacturers and supply chain contractors for AnkleSTONE, BedROK and WillowWORX.
FORGE’s impact: making local connections in Connecticut
“The mutual and shared ambitions between FORGE and your startup company give you the strength to embark on significant missions together. They improve your determination and empower you to succeed,” Zanyk said.
Zanyk’s relationship with FORGE started with an introduction from Jack Crane of CONNSTEP. Crane led Zanyk to a local manufacturer, Canevari Plastics in Milford, CT. Zanyk started attending FORGE webinars. The FORGE Manufacturing Readiness webinar gave her a confidence boost, telling her that her prototype was ready for thermoform manufacturing. Later, a FORGE meetup hosted by Product Resources helped her build a BOM – and introduced her to an investor from Alliance Acquisition Group.
In preparation for expansive growth, Zanyk sought out FORGE to gain an introduction for next step manufacturing. FORGE connected her to Plastics Manufacturing Resources, who referred her to Watertown CT Injection Mold to scale AnkleSTONE and BedROK.
“The relationship with FORGE has been focused on building partnerships,” Zanyk said. “Long-term mutual rewards are developing and expanding as the FORGE network continues to grow.”
Zanyk exhibited AnkleSTONE at FORGE’s 2023 Spring Startup Showcase and Connecticut Launch Party and became a member of the FORGE CT Advisory Council as an Innovation Advisor. She cites FORGE’s support for local manufacturing in Connecticut as a major reason to be so involved. Zanyk is glad she can give back to other entrepreneurs and startup founders by sharing her pitching and physical product experience.
“FORGE is part of my strategy for success,” she said. “I highly recommend other companies with prototypes of physical products come to FORGE.”
Looking forward: from a big launch to global placement
The first round of AnkleSTONEs comes off the line at Canevari in October and will launch immediately. Customers have already tested the product in 5 countries across 3 continents. Their feedback has been positive.
“If your product is worthy, you will get those green flags,” Zanyk said. Her first big green flag was winning the Audience Choice Award at Mass Innovation Nights. That award pushed her to keep developing ZANEEZ products. Since then, she’s been getting green flags from everyone from the NBA to the University of Connecticut.
American soccer celebrity Rodney Wallace says he uses his AnkleSTONE every day. So does Jon LaClare of Harvest Growth. One woman gave a testimonial saying she brought her AnkleSTONE on a trip to Europe because she couldn’t face a month without it.
Zanyk sees AnkleSTONE as the first step into a new dimension of fitness and health solutions. She dreams of improving mobility for everyone: consumers, orthopedic patients and athletes. ZANEEZ is starting its first funding round now, with the goal of ramping, scaling, and eventually getting acquired.
“We anticipate great success in global placement of our products to help people,” Zanyk said. “People are so relieved to finally have a tool that works to meet their exact needs. They can restore their flexibility, get rid of their pain, and move on with their day.”
By the numbers
- From the University of Connecticut’s basketball and U.S. soccer team to the World Long Drive, four major national sports groups use ZANEEZ’s products.
- Though it hasn’t officially launched, users in five countries across three continents have tested – and loved – AnkleSTONE.
- ZANEEZ holds four patents; each product is also a registered trademark
- 1.7 billion people in 160 countries suffer from musculoskeletal issues and don’t have the tools they need to repair themselves. ZANEEZ’s serviceable available market is 700 million people.