It was an idea that grew out of a mentoring program in Pueblo — and now the concept is looking to go nationwide this year. Diana Hall, owner and founder of ActivArmor, which manufactures 3D-printed splints, was running the La Jente Mentoring Program on Pueblo’s Eastside. During her 2½ years there, among the six or seven kids she’d seen in casts, she noticed how dirty the casts became. She figured there had to be a cleaner, more durable alternative.
“There would be sticks and rocks [in the casts] and they couldn’t even wash their hands to have a snack,” Hall said. “One little boy couldn’t keep his cast outside the shower in a bag by himself and was being raised by his disabled grandparents. So, he ended up getting it wet and having permanent scarring under his cast.”
Hall graduated from the Colorado School of Mines with a master’s degree in chemical engineering and had some background in what it might take to manufacture a 3D-printed alternative.
She began to do just that.
Hall established ActivArmor in October 2014. Her idea won the first Southern Colorado Entrepreneurship Competition, hosted by the Thomas V. Healy Center for Business and Economic Research. She also won the regional Small Business Administration’s InnovateHer competition.
According to Hall, the custom splints are covered by most insurance policies and Medicaid and cost the same as a traditional splint.
The splints are created when a 3D scan is done by a partnering health clinic office. A white LED light creates a map of the patient’s body and the scan is then sent to ActivArmor, where the splint is custom-fitted and shipped back in three to four business days.
“It’s custom-fit within half a millimeter, and there is no movement. It is made from the same plastic as LEGOs,” Hall said. “It’s durable and hygienic, waterproof and breathable — which makes it great for athletes.”
The ActivArmor splints, registered with the Food and Drug Administration, are available in Pueblo at Parkview Medical Center’s Outpatient Rehab at the Pueblo YMCA Community Campus and at St. Mary Corwin’s Centura Health Center for Rehabilitation. They are also available at Quantum Health Solutions in Denver. Hall said she is actively working to find a partner clinic in Colorado Springs.
“The University of Maryland has helped in a lot of testing and getting these devices to the point where … [it] is a commercial product and can be sold,” she said.
Hall is the only full-time employee at ActivArmor, but she has contractual agreements with a third-party company to manufacture the custom splints and with sales representatives. The sales representatives have been working across the nation to identify clinics that might be a good fit, she said.
Hall is applying to the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade for an advanced industries grant to create jobs in the region. It’s a matching grant, and Hall has started an online funding campaign to sell equity in her business and grow the grant before her business goes nationwide.
“I’m waiting for funding through the Fundable.com campaign and partners to position me with capital to be able to then place the devices in these clinics,” she said. “There’s a lot of interest. It’s just a matter of being able to serve them now.”
If Hall finds she’s been approved for the grant in August, she will hire 36 full-time employees in southern Colorado by the end of this year, she said, adding she expects to hire another 100 the year after that. However, if she is not approved, Hall said she still plans on hiring another full-time partner to help manage aspects of ActivArmor.
Similar concepts to ActivArmor exist in other countries, but Hall said her idea has taken off because it is the only commercially available 3D-printed, custom-fit splint in the United States. But it hasn’t all been a smooth ride.
“The medical device industry is incredibly hard to compete in as a startup,” she said.
Hall said the Pueblo community has been very supportive of her as an entrepreneur, but that as a small business in southern Colorado, there have been some difficult obstacles on the regulatory side.
“The administrative red tape has been a real challenge to get through for a small business owner and a startup,” Hall said. “It would be great for more people to support startups and entrepreneurs in southern Colorado. If people would be willing to take a leap on early-stage investment and invest in people that have great ideas … that would help a lot of people bring their ideas beyond the prototyping stage to the commercialization stage.”