Aren Naegeli, a biomedical engineering student at the University of Utah and the engineer behind Naegeli Footworks, is dedicated to revolutionizing the orthotics industry. Her approach integrates traditional orthotic components with modular designs, creating more accessible and user-friendly solutions for individuals who suffer from foot and ankle pain due to congenital or degenerative conditions or injury.
The journey of Naegeli Footworks was born from a deeply personal story. Naegeli grew up watching three members of her family struggle with foot and ankle pain. While all three conditions had distinct causes (one was an injury due to a motorcycle accident, one was a congenital condition that was not resolved through surgery, and the other was due to a degenerative neuropathy), each individual experienced the same frustration with the current orthotic options available off the shelf and through their healthcare providers. The orthotics were large, clunky, and imprecise. In addition, they were built to facilitate walking, thus were either unusable for other activities, or caused blisters and other sources of pain. Observing the pain and frustration caused by the current solutions to foot and ankle pain ignited the spark of innovation, leading Naegeli to imagine better solutions.
What sets Naegeli Footworks apart from conventional orthotic systems is the strong emphasis on modularity. While traditional custom orthotics tend to be rigid, one-and-done solutions that lack flexibility for adjustments and customization, Naegeli’s designs stand out for their interchangeability. This innovative approach empowers patients to modify their own orthotics using everyday tools, ensuring a customized experience at a fraction of the cost.
Naegeli said she is still in the development phase and has a few model orthotics for testing. While she has not yet introduced her fully customized models, her experiments with existing orthotics have been enlightening. The feedback has been positive, paving the way for the creation of her proprietary models for further rigorous testing.
Despite the progress made, Naegeli acknowledges there have been and will continue to be challenges. One such obstacle is the footbed. Current custom orthotic footbeds are rigid, in order to provide needed support. But their rigidity is limiting. Naegeli is working with different materials and technologies to create a footbed that is both flexible and supportive. Naegeli seeks to collaborate with an industry expert to design this essential element effectively. She recognizes that Naegeli Footworks’ success will require collaboration.
“I want to get involved with more doctors,” Naegeli said. “It would really be very beneficial to have someone on the medical side of this. If we could have an in-house podiatrist, that would be even better.” By collaborating with a medical professional early in the prototyping phase, Naegeli Footworks aims to ensure that their engineering-driven solutions align seamlessly with medical standards.
Participation in the Get Seeded grant program at the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute has already proved transformative for Naegeli and her company.
“The grant is going to do so much for us,” Naegeli said. “Now that I have some money I have a place to start. It’s a big step for us.” This financial support is pivotal, breaking down the financial barriers that often impede healthcare innovation, providing resources for further modeling and testing and various prototypes.
Naegeli envisions a future where a diverse range of orthotic components, tailored for specific activities — such as hiking and running — can be effortlessly switched by the wearer to perform optimally in each scenario. Additionally, they plan to broaden their services by offering physical appointments and implementing user profiles enriched with biometric data. The ultimate goal is to revolutionize the orthotics industry, drastically reducing the time required to obtain a customized orthotic from several months to just a few weeks.
The modularity of Naegeli’s designs, affordability, focus, and dedication to collaboration position Naegeli Footworks as a promising contender in the field. With the financial support received, Naegeli is on track to reshape the orthotics industry and provide enhanced solutions for those in need.