A social media post changed Kendra Horvath’s junior year at the University of Hawaii and began her career as an entrepreneur.
Horvath, a 2017 Camas High School graduate, is the chief marketing officer for G-Trainer LLC, a start-up company that hopes to create a niche in the medical equipment industry with new technology and new ideas.
One day earlier this year, Horvath was scrolling through her Instagram feed when she saw an update from Austin Yoshino, an engineering student Horvath had met “once or twice before” through shared Greek life connections. The post detailed Yoshino’s recent victory in a campus business competition, in which he entered his plan for a device to assist people with mobility disorders.
Horvath was immediately intrigued. She sent a message to Yoshino that outlined her interest in joining his team. He wrote back to schedule an interview and hired her soon thereafter.
“I thought it was a really cool product,” said Horvath, who is scheduled to graduate in 2020 with degrees in international business, marketing and entrepreneurship. “It was a noble concept. I feel that this is important, something that a lot of people need. It feels good to be doing a kind of business that can change a lot of people’s lives if we can get it up and going.”
The G-Trainer incorporates gyroscopic technology into the frame of a traditional gait trainer — equipment designed to help differently abled people learn to walk and build muscle skills — allowing for significantly reduced size and giving the user more freedom and functionality, according to Horvath.
“It’s better and different,” Horvath said. “Traditional gait trainers usually have four wheels, and they’re pretty wide. We’re going to have two wheels — one front, one back, in between the person’s legs. We’re changing it from a huge bulky base to like a motorcycle.”
The G-Trainer is designed to work on a variety of surfaces, such as grass and carpets, that can’t be easily accessed by a traditional gait trainer. Users will also have an easier time navigating through tighter spaces such as aisles in classrooms and grocery stores, Horvath said.
The product will also provide users with a variety of harnesses, which can be restrictive in traditional gait trainers, according to Horvath.
Yoshino was inspired to create the device by his younger brother, Brandt, who has cerebral palsy, a disorder that impacts a person’s balance, movement and muscle tone. He said he thinks about his brother, who is non-verbal, using his device “every day.”
“When I wake up and go to sleep, that’s the vision behind it,” said Yoshino, the company’s chief executive officer. “People can be more free, do more things. I want to give back what was taken away from them. This product will be the first of its kind. The technology is very behind in this area. Hopefully we can be a leader or set an example of innovation to help people find other things to innovate.”
G-Trainer LLC, which also includes fellow University of Hawaii students Everett Amundson (chief operating officer), Jason Chan (chief technical officer) and Jillian Kuba (medical lead), became a C corporation July 1.
Horvath, who is in Camas to visit family before heading back to Hawaii later in the summer, is looking to conduct interviews with people who have experience with mobility issues — either as a patient or caregiver — for research purposes.
With the product design nearly finished, the group is now starting to focus on production. The company has partnered with a Japanese firm called Leave a Nest that will finish prototypes of the device based on the team’s drawings and begin the manufacturing process, Horvath said. The five students will fly to Japan this month to meet with the “accelerator” company and sign a contract.
The group is starting to anticipate its financial challenges as well. Horvath said the team will need about $100,000 to provide for proper licenses and manufacturing needs.
“We have a couple of investors interested in us, and we’re hoping to get an ‘angel investor’ to become heavily involved in the company,” she said. “Most likely, we’re not going to be getting any loans just because we are college students. We’ve done a bit of crowdfunding, but unfortunately a lot of people who aren’t in the special needs community don’t understand the need.”
David Johnson, a Camas High teacher and DECA club adviser, said that “it is really exciting that (Horvath) and her team are applying a variety of skills in the entrepreneurial endeavor.”
Horvath said she has long known she wanted to have a career in business.
“I think I’ve always been good at presenting and getting my message across,” she said. “When I was little, I was dancing on stage and playing the piano … so I’ve been a performer. When I hear we have to give a pitch to a company, I think that’s the best thing ever. That’s so fun for me.”
As a member of the Camas High DECA team, she qualified for multiple career development competitions.
“Kendra is a hard-working and very intelligent student,” Johnson said. “She was a proactive problem-solver … In her second year she found her voice and began leading others. She was a great listener and was able to assimilate information to solve problems and take advantage of opportunities.”
Yoshino said Horvath has been a tremendous asset to the company and is in line for a promotion.
“There’s no question about her business skills and skills as a person,” he said. “The biggest thing I saw in her was her passion and dedication. She’s a perfectionist, so she takes the time to make sure everything is good.”