Diana Hall considers that her business, ActivArmor, is still in the startup phase.
That’s about to change.
On Oct. 3, Pueblo-based ActivArmor was selected from more than 3,300 applicants to receive $100,000 in the first Pitch to Win contest.
ActivArmor manufactures custom-fitted, 3D-printed splints that, unlike plaster casts, are durable, hygienic, waterproof and breathable.
Since she founded ActivArmor, Hall has proved adept at negotiating the regulations that apply to medical device businesses, partnering with clinics and finding unique sources of financing.
In 2014, Hall’s idea for custom splints won the first Southern Colorado Entrepreneurship Competition hosted by CSU-Pueblo’s Thomas V. Healy Center for Business and Economic Research — Pueblo’s version of “Shark Tank.”
The win came with $5,000 in rent reimbursement for space in the Pueblo Economic Development Corporation’s small business incubator at the Business and Technology Center.
There, Hall was able to patent her process and establish proof of concept, a requirement for federal approval of her product as a Class 1 immobilization device.
In 2015, she won first place in the statewide InnovateHER pitch competition, sponsored by the Small Business Administration.
Next came a $250,000 grant from the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade’s Advanced Industries Accelerator program in November 2017. Hall used the money to develop partnerships with 11 clinics in major metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles, New York, Fort Worth and Denver.
The latest grant will allow her to grow into five more major metropolitan markets, and she aims to be working with a total of 20 clinics by the end of 2020.
That will go a long way toward proving that ActivArmor’s technology is a standard of care in the orthopedic field.
“At that point, we will also be proving our scalability,” Hall said, “and once it’s scalable, we’ll have a lot of efficiencies … that we will be able to implement as far as dropping our prices and looking at different distribution models.”
The grant also will enable her to continue providing 5 percent of sales to patients, especially children without health insurance.
Hall is making progress on other fronts as well.
“We contracted recently with the workers’ comp group that works with professional teams like the NFL and major league baseball teams,” she said. “I actually have NFL players wearing ActivArmor on the field.”
ActivArmor also has been approved by the University of South Carolina and the USA Volleyball Association.
Injured volleyball players wearing traditional casts are required to sit out games, but they can play while wearing ActivArmor.
“Our original target was high-end sports medicine,” Hall said. “But now we’re working on contracts with a couple of pediatric hospitals” and orthopedic clinics that are willing to embrace new technology.
“It’s disruptive technology and a different clinical process,” Hall said. “That’s always hard for the first to market.”
Hall’s idea stemmed from her work with the La Jente Mentoring program in Pueblo. She noticed that some of the kids in the program were wearing dirty casts and couldn’t even wash their hands to have a snack.
Hall, who earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the Colorado School of Mines after graduating from CSU-Pueblo, found a better way.
The clinics that have adopted the technology send 3D scans to ActivArmor, which uses CAD programs to custom design each splint.
The designs are implemented by an outsourced 3D printing company.
Hall is trying to keep her overhead as low as possible while the company is growing, so most of her sales representatives are contract employees. Sales growth recently justified adding a fourth designer.
“This year I am projected to double sales, and triple them by the end of 2020,” she said. “Then we are going to be at the point where we’re either going to take venture capital funding and do a very big distribution launch, or we’re going to be positioned for an acquisition.”
Hall said she is proud to be creating primary jobs at “a living wage.”
“We feel like we’re reducing the brain drain,” she said. “We want to be able to retain our kids here and give them good jobs and provide that in the community.”
Hall also wants to help build a perception of her hometown “as more than just a steel mill town.
“I’m not trying to push things,” she said. “What I’m trying to do is just show that it can be done and it will be done and it should be done here.”