By Sophie Chong
His inspiration came from an injury on the football field six years ago.
Eric Muellejans, a third-year business technology management student, needed reconstructive surgery after he severely fractured his leg and was forced to take four months of bed rest.
“If you think of your foot as a clock, and your big toe is pointing up at 12, my entire foot went to seven o’clock; the whole leg was separated,” he said.
In severe pain, completely immobile and with two plates and nine screws in his leg, Muellejans was frustrated with trying to keep his leg comfortable and properly elevated.
“With pillows my leg would constantly keep slipping out. I’d always have to readjust and it was a really big pain in the butt,” he said. “The whole thing would cause my leg to fall against the ground, causing immense pain and delayed my recovery time overall.”
Being injured at 16 years old, the idea of a portable, secure leg rest for athletes seemed too simple to Muellejans.
“I pitched it to my family, they said it was a dumb idea and that I shouldn’t do it. It was too simple, and that there’s got to be something on the market,” he said.
He found that the only thing available on the market at the time was foam wedges, so he set out with the determination to create a specialized device that enhanced leg elevation for athletes with lower-leg injuries.
“I’ve seen way dumber ideas make way more money, I might as well test this out,” he said.
Muellejans began his new start-up company called Kumovate this year, and did all prototyping and designing at Ryerson’s Design Fabrication Zone.
His invention, the KUMO, is designed for athletes who experience injuries to the lower leg region. Its convenient features include adjustable height to cater to a variety of injuries, and has comfortable, inflatable side support to keep feet securely in place. It’s made of hydrophobic plastic so users can easily wipe off excess ice and water.
The toll of sports injuries on athletes
Ali Ghazanfari, a goalie for Ryerson men’s soccer team, said he hated having to ice his ankle after he sprained it this past June.
“I hated icing my ankle. I had a lot of difficulties trying to prop up my legs, I had to resort to using my backpack to prop up my ankle,” he said.
Ghazanfari also expressed that his five-week-long recovery period after his injury took a mental toll on him.
“It was difficult to get to places, and at end of the day, you don’t even want to walk home…The process coming back was tough as well. I went five weeks without playing a game, so it nerve-wracking because I was not in the same shape as I was before.”
He said there was no replacement goalkeeper to play in his absence, and so the team had to choose a random player to play in his position, costing the team a few losses.
“I definitely would try [KUMO]… it probably would have made my recovery period a lot easier and more comfortable,” he said.
Bringing KUMO to life
Muellejans says a lot of user testing, meeting with athletes, clinical professionals students and getting everyone’s perspective on the device was important throughout the creation of the product.
“I think one of the biggest issues young entrepreneurs have is they want to hold the idea to themselves because they are afraid of rejection, of getting really harsh feedback, or worse, someone stealing their ideas,” he said.
He said he has received major validation from Ryerson after his invention won the DMZ pitch-off, and he was able to take home $15,000.
Muellejans stressed that getting feedback early on is important before making investments in your own brand or product, as it can save time in the future.
He is in the process of formulating antimicrobial washable covers to go with the product to improve sanitation. He is also potentially looking into 3D printed ice packs custom designed for specific leg injuries to target cooling compression for lower limb injuries.
Kumovate is currently offering the KUMO for $59.99.