Best foot forward
In middle school, Benjamin Zawacki ’22 was diagnosed with flat feet. But when his pediatrician prescribed orthotic inserts, the orthotics themselves became a bigger problem.
“Interchanging them from shoe to shoe was the major issue and you couldn't wear it without a shoe,” Zawacki said.
When he came to UD, Zawacki decided to major in business administration and was motivated to invent his own custom orthotic insert and start a company, OrthoRev. This spring, he entered his design into the Flyer Pitch competition, an annual competition sponsored by UD’s L. William Crotty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and the Greater West Dayton Incubator.
His invention, the OrthoSock, a strong fabricated sock with a pocket integrated underneath the arch of the foot for a custom, 3D-printed orthotic insert designed to give superior foot support, won fourth place and $15,000.
“I’m hoping to offer an effective product for children who are feeling the same way that I was ...”
“I'm hoping to offer an effective product for children who are feeling the same way that I was with the inconveniences that one deals with when wearing traditional custom orthotics,” Zawacki said.
Zawacki said he designed the OrthoSock to provide custom support and alignment with the body’s skeletal structure. He said it possesses the competitive advantages of ease and affordability when compared to other traditional orthotics.
“It's extremely easy to use as you can wear the OrthoSock with or without a shoe and interchange it from shoe to shoe with ease,” he said.
Upon entering the Flyer Pitch competition, Zawacki developed a business plan and considered how he would sell his product, what markets he would target and how he would develop a prototype.
Once he made it through the first round, Zawacki created his orthotic prototype with the help of Sam Diller, a sophomore in the Stitt Scholars Program. The prototype used 3D printing from a Computer Aided Design model. Then, Zawacki paired the orthotic insert up with a sock that had fabric stitched to the bottom, serving as an integrated pocket.
Zawacki surveyed other people with flat feet, asking about the problems they experienced with other orthotics and if the Orthosock was a product they could benefit from. Zawacki also talked with podiatrists to improve his design.
“[Podiatrists are] the experts — they know exactly how the product should be designed and what things my product can help to aid,” he said. “I found my product can prevent heel and arch pain, future pain in your knees, your hips [and] your lower back.”
Zawacki advanced to the final stage of the competition, finalized his business plan and determined aspects that would help OrthoRev as a business, the first being “speed to market.”
He collaborated with his mentor, Tom Vogul.
“We wanted to be the first mover within the industry and that meant that I needed to have a patent, build a supply chain, and continue research and development,” Zawacki said.
The final round helped him define OrthoRev’s ultimate purpose and Zawacki applied for a patent, which is currently pending. “OrthoRev’s profitability will be a byproduct of serving both the community and society by offering revolutionary orthopedic products,” Zawacki explained.
Flyer Pitch was transformative, Zawacki said. He plans to put all of his winnings back into OrthoRev and use it to conduct more research, create and distribute more products and pay patent fees. He said he is grateful for the connections and resources from the competition, including The Hub and PNC Bank as well as the University. He said he could not have seen such success without guidance from Vince Lewis, entrepreneurial initiatives executive director for the Crotty Center.
“The love and support I have received from my family and friends has boosted my confidence ...”
“The love and support I have received from my family and friends has boosted my confidence and passion to succeed,” he said.
Zawacki is planning to use the $15,000 prize money to continue the launch of the OrthoSock while also working full time as a product manager at Medline Industries in Chicago.