Weekly meetings among friends turn a Seattle-based startup into a rising medical device company.
Before Brian Glaister, MS, PhD, became president and chief
executive officer of Cadence Biomedical, he was a frustrated graduate research
assistant at the VA Center of Excellence for Limb Loss Prevention and
Prosthetic Engineering in Seattle. Glaister — armed with a master’s
degree in bioengineering from Arizona State University and an internship with
Prosthetic Orthotic Associates in Scottsdale, Ariz. — was not frustrated
by the work. In fact, he loved his job and had a strong passion for it. At the
VA, he was developing robotic prosthetic limbs for amputees, which he found
fascinating and enlightening. The problem was his subjects would routinely ask
when they could receive the robotic limbs he was developing.
“Unfortunately, the answer was probably never,” Glaister told
O&P Business News. “More than likely, I was just working on an
academic project. I was working really hard on these projects. I thought if I
was working this hard, I might as well try to get it out there and help
Jason Schoen received his bachelor’s degree in
bioengineering from Marquette University. At Marquette, he had an advisor with
an O&P background and Schoen was intrigued by her work. He enrolled in
O&P classes while working at a human motion lab conducting gait research.
Schoen also worked at the Froedtert & Medical College Stroke Program at the
Medical College of Wisconsin.
“I worked on creating stroke rehab technologies for home
therapy,” Schoen told O&P Business News. “I generally
focused on low cost devices.”
After graduating, Schoen moved to Seattle to work for the VA Center of
Excellence for Limb Loss Prevention and Prosthetic Engineering conducting human
motion and prosthetics research.
Glaister also had experience working with and researching highly
functional, low-cost items. For his required research project, Glaister
performed a biomechanical study comparing the Jaipur foot, an inexpensive,
rubber-based prosthesis developed in India that could be quickly manufactured
and fit, to more expensive lower extremity devices.
“I met Jason when he took a job at the Seattle VA,” Glaister
said. “I had been working there a few months as a graduate research
assistant and we instantly became fast friends. We were both looking for
something more out of our careers. I distinctly remember picking Jason up from
the airport and telling him I wanted to start a company. It didn’t take
From left: Chie Kawahara, Jason Schoen and Brian Glaister have secured financing for the Kickstart orthosis and are looking to add to their team.
Images: Cadence Biomedical
With Schoen on board, Glaister officially founded Cadence Biomedical,
originally named Empowering Engineering Technologies, Corporation (EET) in
August 2007. Living in Seattle, which is essentially a startup community,
Glaister leaned on the advice of colleagues and friends who had experience
maintaining a small business. Schoen and Glaister regularly met on Monday
nights after work in Glaister’s dining room in Seattle writing grant
proposals, brainstorming product ideas and discussing possible challenges and
hurdles to the business. Meetings at Glaister’s house were upbeat with a
very collegial atmosphere.
“It was important to foster that early on,” Glaister said.
“Who would spend their free time working on things if it wasn’t
At the end of each meeting, Schoen and Glaister created a list of tasks
that they were to work on for the next week. The grant proposals were
continually coming up empty, but Glaister kept writing and maintaining contact
with possible investors.
In 2008, Chie Kawahara, BS, MS, joined Schoen and Glaister,
forming what would become the full team of Cadence Biomedical. Kawahara earned
a master’s degree in biomedical engineering from the University of
Michigan. One of Kawahara’s lifelong friends was a colleague of Schoen and
Glaister at the Seattle VA. Schoen and Glaister were looking for additional
engineering help when Kawahara’s name came up.
“At the time, I was working on a few different projects,” she
told O&P Business News. “My background is in electrical and
biomedical engineering. I worked in the medical device field my entire career,
not O&P. But it was really great to sit around and spend time working on
projects from the ground up. We spent a lot of days hanging out and
brainstorming. That was the initial appeal.”
It didn’t take long for Cadence Biomedical to move from Glaister’s basement to an office full-time.
While the team continued with various projects, Glaister was contacted
by A.J. van den Bogert, PhD, department of biomedical engineering at the
“He had the idea that if you put a long spring on a human it may
make them as efficient as a horse,” Glaister said.
According to Bogert’s research, of the seven musculotendinous
structures in the distal part of the equine hind limb, four were almost
completely tendinous and the others have short muscle fibers with strong
parallel elastic tissue and a long series elastic component spanning up to four
“This limb design results in various ‘pogo-stick’ and
‘catapult’ mechanisms that contribute to efficient locomotion,”
Bogert wrote in his study. “Consequently, horses consume 50% less
metabolic energy for running than humans, per kg of body weight.”
There was computational work that showed that his theory had merit, but
Bogert did not know how to build the exoskeleton using pogo-stick mechanisms or
who it would be good for. Although they were working on a number of ideas at
the time, the Bogert research had the most potential for success.
“We licensed the patent and started working on it,” Glaister
said. “The rest is sort of history.”
The Kickstart prototype
Glaister likes to say that Schoen lived in his basement for the better
part of the winter of 2009 and into 2010. Schoen did not actually live in his
basement but he spent most of his free time there building the first kinetic
orthosis prototype out of spare parts using essentially a handsaw and a Swiss
army knife. The idea was that the kinetic orthosis would provide stability to
weakened muscles using a tuning system of springs and cams to capture energy
typically wasted during the beginning of a step. The device would then return
the energy at the end of the step, propelling the user forward. The user’s
leg would lift in preparation for the next step. The device was aimed for users
with severe weakness in their legs such as stroke victims and users with
partial spinal cord and brain injuries.
That winter, the team flew to Cleveland to get some rudimentary data to
demonstrate the device’s potential.
“I think when we started off, we were all working on
everything,” Kawahara said. “There was so much to do. We didn’t
have the structure figured out yet. But as we’ve grown, we have taken our
The team came together on the big decisions but each member had their
specific roles as well. Glaister was the head of the company, writing grant
proposals and generally doing everything he could to drum up interest. Schoen
was the developer, working long hours to create prototypes of the kinetic
orthosis. Kawahara worked on the company’s operations as well as helping
Schoen with the engineering and development.
Sometimes the money is spread entirely too thin. Sometimes the good
ideas fail. Inspiration dissipates and frustration turns to uncertainty or
self-doubt. In early 2010, EET was at the point where it could begin to attract
investors, but Glaister’s proposals were still being denied.
“I think at different times we had moments where we had doubts, but
I think we were a good team because we were never discouraged at the same
time,” Kawahara said.
In order to start attracting investors, Glaister had to prove in high
pressure pitch meetings with potential investors that the product could provide
a positive impact for individuals with lower extremity impairment. By August
2010, the team was able to get two small grans from the Army and closed an
early investment round. Cadence Biomedical had enough money to move out of
Glaister’s basement and into an office full-time.
The team created a robust beta prototype that could be adjusted to
whoever walked through the door. Stroke victims and partial spinal cord injury
patients of different levels of impairment were able to try the device.
“There is always uncertainty, especially when we were running out
of money,” Schoen said. “There are periods when we are working an
unbelievable amount and it gets frustrating. I think that we are working on a
product and in a field that has very measurable outcomes. Every once in a while
it is easy to get bogged down. But we have also seen people use our device and
when you can see the difference it can make for people, it is easy to stay
In 2011, Glaister pitched the device to HealthTech Capital co-founder,
Don Ross. Ross’ wife had suffered a debilitating stroke. Ross told
Glaister that if his wife liked the device, he would be interested.
“She became an angel investor,” Glaister said. “She liked
the device so much that she joined our board of directors.”
In that same week, two of EET’s grant proposals were accepted,
including one from the National Institutes of Health. Cadence Biomedical had
enough money to move out of Glaister’s basement and into an office
In late April, Cadence Biomedical announced the closing of $1.1 million
Series A2 financing. The financing will support manufacturing and sales of the
Kickstart, the latest version of the kinetic orthosis originally created in
Glaister’s home. There is no firm date yet, but Glaister is hoping to make
Kickstart commercially available by the end of June. He is also looking to add
talent to his tight-knit team.
“When we see someone use Kickstart and we see their excitement,
those are the breakthrough moments that stand out for me,” Kawahara said.
“That is when I know we are doing something meaningful.” — by
For more information:
Timmerman, L. Cadence biomedical snags first $1M to help disabled people
walk. Xconomy. Available at:
Accessed: May 9, 2012.
Van den Bogert, AJ.Exotendons for assistance of human locomotion.
BioMedical Engineering Online. doi:10.1186/1475-925x-2-17.