By Vicki Ritterband and Bill Ibelle
Haley Waud’s eureka moment came four years after she completed her doctorate in physical therapy at Bouvé.
Waud was working with an elderly patient in San Antonio, Texas, when she noticed that the woman’s hips kept getting too far away from her walker, forcing her to slouch over to reach it in an unhealthy manner.
Waud had encountered this problem before, so she improvised a solution.
“I took a stretchable exercise band, put it around the patient’s waist, and tied it to both sides of the walker,” she said. “The pressure from the band provided a constant reminder that she needed to keep her back straight.”
“That was my Aha moment,” said Waud, BS’12 DPT’13.
Within a year, she created a product, licensed it to a manufacturer, and launched a consulting company, YourekaHub, to help budding inventors realize their dreams.
Her walker belt hit the market in mid-September and is being produced by MARS Wellness, a health care products manufacturer based in New Jersey.
“Practitioners in the field are often the first to spot unmet needs, and more companies are accepting ideas for innovation from the outside,” she said.
For Waud, the most difficult part of becoming an innovator was going against expectations.
“After six years of college to earn my doctorate, I didn’t get a lot of support at first when I said I wanted to become an inventor. It’s like telling your parents you’re going to become an actor.”
But Waud was determined. After improvising with the exercise band, she went to a local fabric store and bought canvas, straps, buckles and Velcro and devised an adjustable padded device that she used successfully with several patients.
Through her membership in an inventor’s club she was already familiar with the two main paths for bringing a product to market: Get a temporary patent and license the product to a manufacturer, or start your own company and handle engineering, manufacturing, and distribution on your own.
She chose the first option because it’s faster, and involves less time, money, and financial risk up front.
“It only required about $500, and I didn’t have to quit my day job,” she said. “I’ll get a smaller percentage of the profits, but if it doesn’t work, I’m not left with a garage full of walker belts.”
That’s not to say the licensing option is easy. She had to conduct extensive market research to establish the need for this belt and then convince a manufacturer to take a risk by producing it. Waud spent months contacting more than 50 companies to find a manufacturer willing to bring her product to market.
At Bouvé, Waud was able to balance her academics with real-world experience, working in a pediatric burn clinic in China, a joint replacement clinic in San Antonio, and prosthetics clinics in Chicago and Guatemala. She discovered that she loved the prosthetics work.
“I like working with my hands and creating things,” she said. “I enjoy the before and after, whether it’s someone coming in without a leg and leaving with a prosthetic, or spotting a problem and inventing a solution. I knew I’d end up combining physical therapy and something innovative.”
These days, Waud spends half the year working as a physical therapist and the other half focused on YourekaHub while living in Canada, Mexico, and other international locations. The seeds for her wanderlust were sown by her father, who brought the family along on his journeys to produce underwater educational films. Waud has now been to every continent and takes one big trip a year.
“I’ve always been a bit of a nomad,” she said. “I don’t like to sit still.”