In 2006, Cheryl Mazak, RMT, was at a low point. Ten years into her profession, she was worn out from the hectic pace and frustrated by the relatively meager pay she was making at a clinic in Ottawa. Her right wrist was in constant pain. And she no longer felt fulfilled by her career.
By Stefan Dubowski
So she quit. As far as Mazak knew, that would spell the end of her life as a massage therapist.
It wasn’t. But it was a turning point. Now, following that time off, Mazak thrives as a massage therapist and an inventor. Here’s her story, which you might call a double-jointed success: one person making a name for herself in two different ways.
A real pain in the wrist
Wrist pain was common for many of Mazak’s clients, and a problem that’s becoming more prevalent, especially since so many people now use computers in their jobs. Although she was falling out of love with her career as a RMT, Mazak was developing a strong interest in finding a wrist-pain solution. She studied the problem and came to the conclusion that sufferers would benefit from a device designed to reduce strain by supporting the hand and wrist.
Eventually, her own wrist pain – and frustration with work – led her to stop practising as a therapist. During her time away from massage therapy, she entertained her creative side, honing her skills as a photographer. Her wrist pain subsided. And she continued to work on her pain-reduction
“I had the shape and I knew what I wanted it to look like, with the curved bottom and the bed for the hand to rest in,” Mazak says. “But I didn’t know how I was going to get it to stay in place. When I came up with the idea to use medical-grade adhesive, I was in the patent office the next day. I knew I had it.”
That patent describes what she markets as Squinchi, a device designed to help reduce the pain and fatigue in the wrist associated with using a computer mouse or keyboard. It sticks to the wrist using a medical-grade, reusable adhesive gel pad. It’s designed to provide support without restricting range of motion, so users can type and mouse around unhindered. It’s good for people who have carpal tunnel syndrome – and it’s good for people who want to avoid getting it.
Trial by fire-breathing dragon
Mazak knew she was onto something with Squinchi when she started selling it – and sell it did. Before long, hundreds of people had placed orders through squinchi.com and other channels she’d established.
A big test for the product and its inventor came from a tough TV show. Mazak appeared on CBC’s Dragon’s Den, hoping to land an investment of $35,000 from one of the four “dragons” on the program – successful business tycoons looking for new ventures to invest in. The show’s popularity stems in part from the ruthless way the dragons assess contenders and their inventions.
Mazak’s experience (the episode aired in November 2016) was typically tumultuous. Initially, the dragons seemed impressed with Squinchi. Then they fired difficult questions about market projections and her business acumen. It looked as though she wouldn’t get a deal. But in the end, Jim Treliving, owner of restaurant chain Boston Pizza International, said he would invest. “I think you have something we can take to another level,” he said.
“It is not easy to stand in front of those dragons!” Mazak says. “I had a pretty good experience and I still went home and cried myself to sleep.”
Good things followed. A representative of the office supplies seller Staples contacted her after the program to discuss distribution. The retailer plans to start offering Squinchi this spring, Mazak says. She also ramped up a partnership with a separate distribution firm, which is developing other ways to broaden Squinchi’s market.
RMTs have been known to contact her, too. Mazak keeps a list of the people and organizations interested in providing Squinchi for their clients, and she passes that information to the distributor for future contact.
Bring on the critics
Mazak is confident that Squinchi is beneficial. But not everyone agrees. One physiotherapist wrote to her, worried that the design would put pressure just where it would hurt rather than help. Mazak bristles at that. “I’ve put 15 years into this,” she recalls remarking. “Do you really think I haven’t thought about where the pressure goes? Every single radius and curve is intentional… Every curve took thought and trials. So much went into making this product to fix a problem.”
Even though Treliving from Dragon’s Den initially agreed to participate in Squinchi’s market development, the partnership never materialized. After months considering how to structure the deal, they decided it would be best just not to. In any case, Mazak was able to raise the funds she needed through savings and investments from friends and family.
Squinchi isn’t making her any money yet. But it will soon. Once the next manufacturing batch is done and paid for, Mazak will be able to start drawing profits from the enterprise, likely around June of this year.
In the meantime, she’s proud that the company is debt-free. “To not have debt is rare at this stage,” she says.
Return to RMT
Mazak still needs to work to keep herself as debt-free as her company. In 2014, she recertified as a RMT.
“I missed it,” she says. And she wanted to put into practice a few new ideas, such as a technique that would allow her to work without reinjuring her wrist.
She also relished the chance to review all her original training material. “It was a really amazing thing to relearn everything after having spent years actively practising,” Mazak says. “You’ve already tried so many things and you’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. It just takes you to another level. You’re applying knowledge to your experience. So I don’t see the body in parts anymore. I see it as a piriformis and a tensor fascia lata or a sternocleidomastoid. I see everything under the skin and I target one muscle at a time.”
Now she works at Neuphysio Rehabilitation, a physiotherapy clinic in London, Ont. Most of her patients have been hurt in motor vehicle accidents, and have brain injuries, nervous system problems and other challenging conditions. Mazak finds the work fulfilling. After three years back in practice, she hasn’t reinjured her own wrist.
Ironically, using Squinchi wasn’t the answer for her. A new technique to apply pressure has made all the difference. And no, her own wrist pain wasn’t the catalyst for her foray into entrepreneurship.
“My wrist pain happened after I had come up with the idea for Squinchi,” she says. “Squinchi was something that I specifically designed to help mouse users reduce pain and fatigue in their wrist and hand.”
So now – between her new technique and Squinchi – Mazak can say she found a solution for herself as well as for people suffering after too many mouse clicks. A double-jointed success indeed.
STEFAN DUBOWSKI is a freelance writer based in Ottawa.