TayCo Brace says about 14,000 patients have kicked walking boots to the curb. The South Bend-based startup is stepping up its unique ankle brace, which already has a sizable customer base, ranging from NFL players to the elderly. TayCo Brace recently announced $1.2 million in seed round financing to keep step with demand for its ankle brace, which was inspired by an Indiana treasure: University of Notre Dame football.
With a roster of clients that includes 65 NCAA teams—including the Fighting Irish—and 17 NFL teams, the brace is the brainchild of Mike Bean, an athletic trainer at Notre Dame.
“Mike invented [the brace] while working with Notre Dame football players,” says TayCo Brace co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Gavin Ferlic. “He had a difficult time getting his players back on the field after ankle injuries. He found that the [traditional ankle braces] weren’t as stable as they needed to be and presented a lot of challenges in terms of just getting them inside a shoe. So he thought, ‘I could brace the outside of the shoe.’”
And that’s a key characteristic of the TayCo External Ankle Brace. Traditional braces fit flush with the ankle and must be worn inside a shoe, but TayCo’s rigid brace was designed to be worn outside the shoe, hence ‘external’ in its name. It’s a feature that opened the door to wide application outside the athletic world. Ferlic and Dr. Fred Ferlic, his father and retired orthopedic surgeon, licensed the technology and formed TayCo Brace to bring the device to patients on and off the playing field.
The startup says the brace can help patients recover from a long list of ankle or foot injuries and is an alternative to the conventional walking boot. Ferlic says the TayCo External Ankle Brace is lightweight, but also provides the stability needed to heal an injury; studies have shown the brace is about 88% as stable as a walking boot.
“But it doesn’t have all the other problems associated with a walking boot, such as being very heavy, clumsy and creating a limb length discrepancy, which usually causes pain in the knee, back or hip.”
Perhaps most important, says Ferlic, is that the brace allows patients to return to their daily life much faster.
“In a walking boot, you’re typically not able to function. Think about a patient who needs to go back to work in a steel toe or closed-toe environment. If they’re in a walking boot, they’re off work for 12 to 16 weeks,” says Ferlic. “TayCo allows the patient to wear a brace comfortably outside their shoe, or even boot. TayCo provides the stability the ankle needs, but allows the patient to continue living their normal life and do the things that they love.”
Ferlic says the device could be viewed as a “2 in 1” brace, because it can fix the ankle in place or convert to allow free motion.
“If you’re wearing a walking boot for 12 weeks and completely fixed all the time, your ankle might heal, but you’re likely going to have some long-term functional impairments, such as difficulty getting back your full range of motion, because your ankle has been in that position for so long,” says Ferlic. “Whereas TayCo can go from fixed to range of motion; it’s essentially a 2-in-1 brace.”
TayCo says the recent $1.2 million in seed funding is an important boost as the young company is growing rapidly; investors included Indiana-based Elevate Ventures, IrishAngels and Pit Road Fund. Ferlic says revenue has jumped 50% in 2021 compared to last year. The funding will help grow the team and launch its updated brace, which is a prefabricated and custom-fit brace for both the medical and athletic markets.
“We’re really, really excited about it; we’ve got a couple years of feedback now from physicians on how we can improve an already really great product,” says Ferlic. “I think we’ve been able to put in some features that will make the product even more stable and even more comfortable to deliver in an even better way.”
Ferlic says working with Notre Dame’s IDEA Center has been a “huge asset” for the company and a key factor in its success.
“Almost every day we hear a great story of a patient having a tremendous experience with TayCo; it could be a patient brought to tears because they can walk without pain, or an athlete who wasn’t going to play in the big game, and now can because he or she has the stability or confidence they need,” says Ferlic. “Although we’re growing and making an impact on a bigger scale, it’s nice to hear those individual stories…how TayCo was able to, in some ways, give them their normal life back. That’s what makes us excited.”
Ferlic says the TayCo brace can convert from fixed to a second option that allows range of motion.
Ferlic says partnering with Notre Dame’s IDEA Center has been “a huge asset” for TayCo Brace.