9 Q&A: IncludeFitness of Cincinnati aims to provide access to 'unbiased exercise equipment' for all

CINCINNATI - IncludeFitness is set to debut its first in a line of fitness equipment that it says anyone can use, regardless of physical limitations.

The Cincinnati company's first product, The Access, is a strength-training machine set for a full debut in late 2014.

9 Questions for IncludeFitness CEO Jeff Grainger

1. How did you get the idea for Include Fitness?

The idea for IncludeFitness started when co-founder and current Chief Creative Officer, Ryan Eder, an avid fitness buff, saw a man in a wheelchair struggle to use a weight-trainer and decided to solve the problem. He undertook extensive research that uncovered a critical need for accessible fitness equipment. Ryan then designed a revolutionary fitness platform while a student in UC’s DAAP program for Industrial Design.

The design resulting from his Senior Thesis Project was named “Best in Show” at the International Design Excellence Awards hosted by Business Week. The following years, Apple won for the iPhone and then Nike for a sneaker design. This recognition provided the catalyst to launch the company. I joined IncludeFitness in 2010 to provide the business experience for the strategic framework development and operation management of the Company.

2. What kind of demand is there for this type of equipment?

Research has found that groups such as seniors, (the) obese, wounded veterans and (the) disabled don’t have access to fitness equipment they can use independently, resulting in limited participation in fitness programs. In early 2013, IncludeFitness took its first product, The Access, on a 2,800 mile tour to nationally recognized groups and facilities to assess market demand.

We visited The Christopher Reeve Foundation, Michael Graves Design Studio, VA Medical Center in DC, National Rehabilitation Hospital, Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Lakeshore Foundation (Paralympic Training Facility) and had a final stop on UC’s campus. The tour generated significant interest and partnerships, which has resulted in sales to each of our target market segments.

Rehabilitation hospitals, senior facilities, government facilities, universities, corporate wellness centers, hotels, gyms, and local community centers have all indicated great interest in our products. The ability to have one machine that is versatile and can be used by those with physical limitations and able-bodied alike is seen as a key differentiator for IncludeFitness. The overall market for fitness equipment is approximately $4 billion.

3. What is available for your target customers currently, and how will what you do be better?

The current options for accessible fitness are very few. Large fitness companies tend to employ minor retrofits to their existing equipment in an attempt to deliver inclusive equipment. This misses the point of accessible fitness for those with limited dexterity, hand function, strength, range of motion, or even a smaller frame that cannot use existing fitness equipment.

Some companies have provided wheelchair-only specific equipment forcing gyms and rehab facilities to purchase multiple machines for different user groups. In addition, the objective to include, rather than exclude or segregate, is not achieved with specialized equipment.

Beginning with the proper application of universal design, IncludeFitness has developed fitness equipment that can be used by any person with no help needed despite physical limitation. There are many proprietary features with The Access that all lead to ease of use. Our equipment design started with the most limited user in mind and then infused features and aesthetics that allow everyone to participate. Our customers have recognized and value of truly independent and intuitive use that can be customized to fit the way each person would like to exercise.

4. What is the main idea behind the equipment and how it works?

The goal is to create an unbiased fitness experience that provides all users a means to a healthy lifestyle regardless of size, shape, strength, age, mobility or fitness levels. This is achieved with The Access, through a patented pulley configuration and having every point of interaction require near zero dexterity. Traditional spring loaded pins are re-imagined with patent-pending, intuitive, single action handles and weight selection has been redefined to a simple electronic mechanism. Now, workouts can be set-up and completed with ease by any user.

The ability to independently adjust the entire machine with a single limb is something not available in competing equipment. This ease of use, coupled with our patented pulley system allows the user to adjust the machine to their individual needs and body size. The level of versatility offered through this unique system also enables the user to perform an unprecedented variety of upper and lower body exercises within a compact footprint. This is a great advantage for so many of our customers where space is limited but accessibility is required.

IncludeFitness is also at the leading edge of a revolutionary

data analytics ecosystem for fitness machines. This platform will allow users to effortlessly track and plan routines, communicate with trainers and therapists, and digitize fitness. It will support a seamless transition from a healthcare/rehab setting to a recreation and wellness environment, while providing measurable outcomes for any facility.

5. Can anyone use the equipment, or is especially made for someone with certain physical limitations?

The Access is truly fitness for all; from an elite athlete to an incomplete quadriplegic. Through the implementation of Universal Design principles, we were able to create a machine that eliminated previous barriers. On our 2013 market tour, a quadruple amputee adjusted the entire machine with his elbows and then enjoyed what he termed his "first strength training workout ever." The tour saw dozens of wheelchair users along with people of different sizes and levels of physical limitations or fitness experience and say The Access was the best workout experience they had ever had.

6. What stage of development are you in?

In October 2013, the company accomplished the first part of its Series A financing that will allow us to complete the optimization of the equipment for production of Alpha units to be field tested this summer. Shortly after the testing we will commence full manufacturing and market entry.

Our manufacturing network has been established with TSS Technologies of West Chester providing sub-contractor coordination, inventory control, assembly and shipping. We will be hiring multiple positions soon, including a VP Sales, Operations Manager, Customer Service Manager, Graphic Designer, and an internal sales team in 2014 with plans for significant expansion in subsequent years.

7. When would you like to go to market, and what product would be first?

Our initial sales of The Access have been to rehabilitation hospitals, senior care facilities, universities and community fitness centers. We have had significant interest and are pursuing VA Medical Centers, cruise lines, medically oriented gyms and corporate wellness facilities.

While advance orders for early adopters will accelerate prior to commencement of manufacturing operations, full-scale operations will kick-off immediately following Alpha testing in late 2014.

8. Are you working with any local investors or business accelerators right now?

In 2008 P&G invested in IncludeFitness to fund a proof of concept prototype. CincyTech  provided funding for the initial business model review, while Biostart invested funds to support a market and product review and Business Plan. In April of 2012, the Dayton Development Coalition led a seed round of financing that included participation from Southern Ohio Creates Companies (SOCC) and other regional investors. The 2013 Series A financing was led by Ohio Tech Angels and included numerous Cincinnati and regional investors. We are currently seeking additional investors to complete that financing.

9. What's next for the company?

The immediate focus of the Company is in the areas of manufacturing optimization, testing and preparation; development of the data analytics ecosystem; completing the Series A financing, and the build-up of the management and staff needed for full-scale operations. After launch, IncludeFitness has plans to introduce additional innovative accessible fitness equipment to meet our customer’s demands beyond strength training and to improve the health & wellness for millions worldwide. 

WATCH: IncludeFitness Video

Connect with WCPO Contributor Feoshia Davis on Twitter: @feoshiawrites .

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