This region is known for its business entrepreneurship, but it's still so interesting when I hear about someone who comes up with a great idea and brings it to market, like Horst Schaaf.
Schaaf is a problem-solver, so when he made a product to help his son, he discovered it could help a lot more people. He is the founder of CoreWerks, a Bellingham company that manufactures several different office chairs to help people with lower back pain.
He originally developed the technology to help his son, Mattias, who was born with cerebral palsy. Mattias has to deal with a curve in his back, and several years ago doctors thought the best option for Mattias was spine fusion surgery.
Schaaf noticed that his son's spine improved in one type of sitting situation - while riding horseback. Trained in physics, Schaaf went to work trying to figure out how to simulate that motor stimulation in an office chair. While developing the product, Schaaf said he received help from local companies, including K&K Industries and Irongate Machine shop, companies he still gets components from.
"I knew what I wanted to do, but it did take time," Schaaf said. "I did a lot of doodling on paper and a lot of adjustments before I found something that felt right."
By 2007 he had his chair design and his son was able to avoid the surgery. Basically, the product provides less stability than a typical office chair, which forces the person to strengthen some core muscles. It's not as instable as sitting on a ball, which Schaaf said focuses on legs and the core but can quickly tire a person out.
He thought the chair would work as a medical device for others, and began putting together a business around this idea. Just as he started getting capital for his idea, the financial meltdown hit in 2008, slowing down the company's development.
Schaaf didn't give up. While making some chairs for the medical industry, he's refocused the business to offer the chair to a more mainstream market - office workers who deal with lower back pain. He recently landed a deal with Costco to participate in the store's Roadshow program, and will be demonstrating the product at a variety of regional Costco stores, starting at the Shoreline store on Aug. 17.
His product will be at the Issaquah store starting Sept. 21 and the Kirkland store starting Oct. 26. In Bellingham, Schaaf currently has a couple of sample chairs available for people to try out at Data Doctors, the computer repair company at 1019 Iowa St.
Schaaf has several different models, currently ranging in price from $750 to $999.
He is hoping this road show tour at Costco stores is the start as he begins ramping up the company. Currently he's in a small warehouse unit in the Irongate business park with a few employees. He also gets help from his son.
For further details about the company, call 360-714-1500 or visit corewerks.com.
Biz Talk runs on Thursday.
Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at email@example.com or call 715-2269. Visit his business blog online at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or get updates on Twitter at twitter.com/BhamHeraldBiz.