In the Fall of 2018, Shreveport physical therapist Dr. Eric Rippetoe had no idea that a Reddit post he read about 3-D printed prosthetic legs would lead him to where he is today. The post was made by a veteran who showed off the 3-D prosthetic leg he made from a lightweight, yet strong polymer material. Rippetoe realized that 3-D printing technology had matured and now included engineering-grade applications sufficient for creating a knee brace that offers a better fit, better protection and is lighter than traditional knee braces.
By July 2019, Rippetoe’s Bishop Aegis knee brace had progressed to the point where he could shift his home health physical therapy practice from full-time to part-time to focus on the Bishop knee brace. Rippetoe was able to use the makerspace at Cohab to further prototype the knee brace. At Cohab, Rippetoe was mentored by Cohab Executive Director Jessica Schiele, who provided valuable feedback on the development of the Bishop knee brace as well as assistance in the networking necessary to find investors to help him with the startup costs to take the brace to market. It was through this networking that Rippetoe was ultimately referred to BRF’s Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program (EAP).
During his work with EAP, Rippetoe received research and development funding from BRF’s InterTech Venture Fund. Rippetoe is quick to point out the significance of EAP’s partnership, stating that, “with the endorsement of EAP, I was able to secure funding from investors not yet known to me which has given my startup a vital opportunity to succeed.” One aspect of EAP that is unique in our community is that entrepreneurs do not have to leave Northwest Louisiana to connect with investors but instead can take advantage of the network developed by EAP, which includes the New Louisiana Angel Funds (NLAF). Companies in EAP’s portfolio may be a fit for investor funding, or they may seek bank loans, self-finance, secure grants or raise funds. The involvement of EAP does not end with the securing of funding; rather, the relationship continues and evolves as the needs of the entrepreneur evolve.
After receiving support from BRF’s InterTech Venture Fund in March of 2020, EAP introduced Rippetoe to NLAF, where he was able to begin working with EAP and NLAF on his Seed round of funding. Rippetoe completed the Seed round of funding in March of 2021 which allowed him to complete the Bishop knee brace and gave him the opportunity to shift to full-time development of the knee brace. It was this opportunity that Rippetoe says got the Bishop knee brace out of development and allowed him to not have to deplete his personal savings.
Rippetoe is currently in beta testing for the knee brace, working with football players at the college level to continue making design improvements. These design improvements have greatly improved the comfort and fit of the brace for the most demanding of consumers, collision sport athletes.
Today, Rippetoe’s office is located in the Andress Artist and Entrepreneur Center in downtown Shreveport to further develop his business. At the center, he again is surrounded by other entrepreneurs who can provide support and guidance. This is a great example of what can happen when a community rallies around a technology startup company like Bishop and provides them with the support they need to launch their business here in the Shreveport-Bossier area.
It is important to note that Rippetoe did not find success overnight. He has had over 350 different iterations and prototypes to nail down the form of the knee brace for protecting the knee while allowing for full range of motion and avoiding sensitive areas such as the hamstring tendons. One amazing aspect of 3-D printing and design is that Rippetoe can quickly evolve the knee brace with feedback he receives.
EAP’s impact on the continued development of the company cannot be discounted. Eric firmly believes that without EAP, the Bishop Aegis knee brace would still be years away from launching, if at all. For Rippetoe, the best advice that he has received as an entrepreneur has been, “that everything takes twice as long and costs twice as much as you believe it will, so it is best to over-prepare financially and be patient.” With the assistance of EAP, Rippetoe was able to take advantage of the network of investors and not deplete his financial savings to get the Bishop knee brace to market.
Eric Rippetoe is just one of the many success stories of the community’s collaboration and how many organizations come together to support businesses in North Louisiana. As Rippetoe continues to prepare the Bishop knee brace for market, he is continuing to take advantage of the resources offered by the village that helped to get him where he is today. For Eric, “starting a business is like heading down a treacherous path in a small sedan, but starting a business and partnering with organizations like BRF and EAP is like heading down a treacherous path in an off-road ready ATV.”
Special to BIZ. Magazine