Olympian Scott Morgan is embracing his next career move.
The world-class gymnast won’t be letting go of the rings just yet but Morgan, 28, is making sure he has solid ground to land on.
Morgan has earned some hefty hardware and accolades since arriving in the professional sporting arena, including two golds at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and representing Canada at the 2016 Olympics Games in Rio.
Three weeks before Rio, an interesting proposition was presented to Morgan. His mechanical engineer friend Zack Eberwein, whom Morgan had worked with at John Henry Bikes, and another buddy had a novel idea for a knee brace.
It would be as simple as pulling on a pair of athletic tights or pants. Seamlessly built into the pants is next-gen orthopedic material: invisible, lightweight and flexible. Say goodbye to bulky knee braces.
Morgan was instantly hooked and a little mad about the timing.
“I actually told them, ‘Why are you telling me this now?’” says Morgan with a laugh, speaking to the News from his Deep Cove home last week.
Moments from being on the world’s stage – competing through injury, ironically enough – Morgan was slightly distracted by this game-changing material he was going to help develop.
When he returned from Rio, Morgan met up with Eberwein and Cam Massullo, childhood buddies who grew up in Blueridge. While Eberwein brought a mechanical engineering background to the orthopedic project, Massullo, a kinesiologist, knows a thing or two about bone structure. The friends have one nagging thing in common: knee injuries and surgeries.
“They got really frustrated by the fact the solutions they are currently using didn’t really offer them what they needed,” says Morgan, explaining how current orthopedic materials are uncomfortable and slip and slide around the knee.
At first Morgan was brought aboard as the athlete advisor. Soon after seeing what Eberwein and Massullo were cooking up, Morgan became fully invested.
“It is super exciting,” he says of this reimagined approach to injury rehabilitation.
The three friends and entrepreneurs locked down their orthopedic invention in June, incorporating as Embrace Orthopaedics. The project is incubating as part of a tech startup program at UBC, called Hatch, whose advisors are walking the guys through all the stages of building their orthopedic company.
“It was a really good spot for us to start figuring out, OK is there traction in the market?” says Morgan. “Are we solving people’s real problems? We know we are personally affected (by injuries), but is this something other people are experiencing?”
Their initial concept was to take the existing rigid brace and bend the technology a bit, but then the trio pivoted. They looked at it from a different lens. A thinner one.
Comfort is key, says Morgan, who is always on the move.
In the early stages the guys would develop one or two prototypes over a couple months. Being a potential medical device, they are bound by restrictions on human trials. This forced them to get creative, sometimes even drawing prototype outlines onto their own knees to test range of motion during lunges.
Applying their educational and athletic backgrounds, the men remapped the anatomical structure of the joint, ligament by ligament. Now they are burning through three or four prototypes a week as they get closer to the finish line.
The turning point, says Morgan, was creating an invisibility factor. Tucked inside the athletic tight is integrated support, in the form of a flexible ligament structure which conforms to the body and changes and adapts through movement. All the while, the knee stays in place and doesn’t shift from side to side.
Eberwein, who has had cartilage removed from inside both of his knees, is excited about the product’s potential and expansion into other joints.
“(Imagine) a pair of socks to prevent you from rolling your ankle when you are trail running. We’re starting with the knee as it hits close to home but it also provides the largest market,” says Eberwein.
Eberwein adds there is nothing else like their orthopedic product on the market. The closest contenders, says Eberwein, are compression-based garments that don’t allow for the same level of support.
The goal is to get Embrace Orthopaedics to market by this summer. Once the functionality factor is perfected, the developers can play with colour schemes. They want their orthopedic pants to appeal to different demographics, including athletes and those with joint conditions such as arthritis.
The plan is to pitch the name brand players associated with sport – Adidas, Nike, etc. – and partner with them and offer Embrace technology in a variety of garments. Morgan says his dream pro athlete endorsement would be with Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks.
Embrace is financially backed by supportive friends and family members. Currently at the pre-seed point, the guys are raising $400,000 for development, getting the garments to market and early stages of distribution. They have raised $100,000 so far, with the help of some accredited investors as well.
“It is aggressive but we think we have the ability to get there by August – that’s the goal,” says Morgan, who is juggling this new venture and gymnastics training. “Frankly, it’s hard to get me out of the office some days because I’m just so jazzed about what we’re doing.”
Morgan is still in the gym five days a week, with a goal in mind of getting to the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in April. National team qualifiers will be held in Quebec, where five athletes will be picked to compete in Australia.
The fact Morgan is still in the game has a lot to do with his father, James. During a heart-to-heart, Scott told his dad: “You know, I’ve got to transition out of sport sometime.”
The elder Morgan suspected his son still loved the sport and wasn’t ready to give it up.
James passed away on Sept. 15, as his son was preparing to leave for the world championships.
“And it kind of made me think, well maybe he was the biggest reason why I had these opportunities and this ability to focus primarily on my sport and have the support of my family and do it so well,” says Morgan. “As a high level athlete, you need that.”
His dad’s lingering guidance has reignited a spark in Morgan to keep on training, quelling any fears he has about leaving professional gymnastics.
“I’m still fit and I still have potential, so why give that up?” says Morgan. “I’m not closing doors. Two Olympics in a row would be the dream. We’re taking it year by year.”
But Morgan has a solid backup plan in Embrace.
“I haven’t really been that excited about something outside of sport for a long time,” he says.