CNM Ingenuity-Backed Startup Aims to Standardize Touch for Massage Therapists, Other Healthcare Fields

Feb 18, 2020

Most massage therapists ask clients how strong a massage they’d like. Words the therapists use include “light,” “firm,” and “deep.” These words make sense, but their meaning can vary wildly between therapists. One massage might be called “light” but feel plenty “firm.”

This is a problem Sarah Komala quickly identified after taking charge of a massage therapy business in Rio Rancho that employed 25 different therapists. There was too much subjectivity and it was hard to create a standard form of care amongst clients and across the therapists. That’s when a lightbulb went off and she decided to try and standardize touch.

“It made me realize there was a really big gap and real opportunity here,” she says.

Her solution? To invent a new machine that would help massage therapists (and consequently many different health and medical practitioners) understand exactly how much pressure they were applying in exact grams and pounds so that the common words like “light” could become quantifiable, allowing for more consistent care.

A massage therapist by training, Sarah built a company, which she called Mendology, and a first machine—which she called Standard Touch—with off-the-shelf parts in her garage. She taught herself to code the machine, and with the help of her husband Eric Komala, came out with a working prototype. Seven product iterations later, they had a final product.

About one-foot square, the Standard Touch has a gel pad on top that mimics the feel of human tissue. Practitioners are supposed to apply pressure to that pad with their hands flat or balled up, and a screen that connects to the pad reads the exact amount of pressure applied.

“The overall goal,” Sarah says, “is to identify and reduce pressure variation. Uncontrolled variation is the enemy of quality.”

Or in other words, the machine can help train anyone who uses touch to know what one pound  of pressure feels like compared to 10 pounds. And while the machine was initially targeted at massage therapists, Sarah quickly realized that wellness and medical practitioners across many different fields from physical and occupation therapy, to nursing and cosmetology, would benefit from a quantifiable touch training.

As one example of touch variability, Mendology, along with Louisa Boyd, an occupational therapist and certified lymphedema therapist, worked with 22 licensed oncology practitioners who were asked to apply a certain amount of defined pressure —such as “light”— to the Standard Touch. What they found was up to a 572 percent difference in how these practitioners defined that subjective term.

“That difference is something we want to address,” Sarah says. “My hope is that on the medical side, the device allows for continuity of care. And on the wellness side, including massage therapy, you get continuity of care and the ability to give the customer exactly what they want.”

Along the way, Sarah has received help from CNM in several different ways. She used 3D printers for rapid prototyping at CNM Ingenuity’s FUSE Makerspace. CNM Ingenuity, after seeing the broad application of the product, went on to invest in the company, and Sarah has received technology and business coaching from the Ingenuity staff.

“I’m totally serious when I say that I would not be here without CNM Ingenuity,” she says.

CNM Ingenuity is also supporting Mendology by offering something called Intelligent Pressure—a training program for any practitioner that wants to use the machine. The Intelligent Pressure training qualifies as a Continuing Education Unit (CEU) as well—something that’s important for medical practitioners who need CEU credits to maintain medical licenses. Training and certification opportunities can be delivered at the workplace or at CNM Ingenuity.

Going forward, Sarah wants to not only expand the reach of the Standard Touch machine, but also expand the company. She’s already working on a host of other smart devices she can develop for the wellness industry. More specifically, she wants to build what she calls a “biosensor environmental control system.” In that system, massage therapy clients would wear a finger monitor that would record heart rate and body temperature, and automatically trigger the practitioner to either increase or decrease the pressure of the massage based upon the goal of the client. That same sensor could also trigger the temperature, lighting, music, and scent to customize the service.

“There’s a lot more to come and I’m really excited about where we can take this,” Sarah says.

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