Brownmed Inc.: Improving Lives Through Curiosity-driven Innovation

When Dr. Ivan Brown started experimenting to create a splint for his patients with sprained or broken fingers, he tested the products on his houseful of boys. By 1965 the doctor used his patented Plastalume Finger Splint (Plastalume) to launch a medical supply company now widely known as Brownmed Inc. (Brownmed). The splint, made of malleable aluminum with a foam insert to secure the finger, is still manufactured and sold today by Brownmed.

Dr. Brown worked out of his basement for two years, continuing to improve and manufacture the product. By 1967 he had created a 2,000-square foot space in his backyard to grow the business. During the next decade and a half, he focused on growing sales of Plastalume. By 1982 Dr. Brown’s sons had taken over the business and were ready to develop additional, innovative products.

Ivan Brown Jr., current president and CEO of Brownmed, was just 12 when his father patented Plastalume. Continuing in his father’s footsteps, Ivan Jr. was keyed in to thinking how to make existing products better. When Ivan Jr. broke his ankle playing basketball in 1988, he experienced the frustration of being inconvenienced with the daily task of showering. Plastic bags, rubber bands and tape weren’t adequate to protect the traditional cast material from the water. It was this incident that launched the company’s production of a product known as SEAL-TIGHT cast and bandage protector, which creates a secure, protective barrier between the cast and water. The growth of this product has propelled expansion of the company.

Headquartered in Spirit Lake, Iowa, the 30,000-square foot facility is a far cry from the family’s basement where Ivan Jr.’s father started the business. Brownmed now employs 68 people and reports annual revenue around $12 million. The company has become a leading producer in the medical field, offering 85 different orthopedic and other medical products, such as fracture supports, cast covers, wound care, compression supports and splints.

Following a Passion

Ivan Jr. is an entrepreneur at heart, more so than his father might ever have imagined. He’s started nine different businesses, his first while a senior in high school. After doing many other things, including teaching at the university level, Ivan Jr. has dedicated his career to leading Brownmed. He has focused his efforts on growing the business in both sales and staff, while being instrumental in the creation of the company’s culture even in times of rapid growth and organizational change

The numbers prove that not only is Ivan Jr. passionate about the business, but also he is intent on success. Brownmed saw a 107-percent increase in revenue between 2008 and 2011. In the same timeframe, the company added 19 employees and is now ranked 187 in the industry.

The growth of the company is also marked by the sectors Brownmed products are sold to, which run worldwide. The majority of product sales are in the United States, with about 20 percent sold to Canada and countries in Europe, South America, the Pacific region and Asia. In addition, Brownmed produces a number of popular brands sold to hospitals, clinics and even directly to consumers through retailers like CVS, Walgreens and others.

In addition to Plastalume and SEAL-TIGHT, Brownmed produces IMAK products, which help with discomfort from tennis elbow, carpal tunnel, runner’s knee, migraines, back pain, computer-related aches and more. Patients with plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis or heel pain may find relief from the company’s brand Nice Stretch. Brownmed also produces Sealed Ice encapsulated icepacks for injuries.

Steady Step addresses a variety of issues with foot, ankle and leg pain. In addition, the company plans to introduce a new line of products under the brand name Intellinetix, which provide vibration relief and healing from arthritis and other chronic pains. According to Brownmed’s website, Ivan Jr. says the company embraces the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives through the products the company produces.

Nearing 50 Years of Excellence

Brownmed will be marking its 50-year anniversary in 2015. Ivan Jr. says the company has already talked about planning some celebration to mark the significant milestone and honor his father, who died 17 years after inventing Plastalume. After being involved in the business himself for more than 20 years, Ivan Jr. understands the value Brownmed products offer to people worldwide.

The fact Brownmed has dedicated itself to improving the lives of many is well recognized in the industry. Brownmed is consistently listed on the Inc. 5000, a list of the fastest growing, privately held American businesses. In 2010 the Arthritis Foundation commended Brownmed with the Ease of Use award for three products the company proudly produces. In addition, accolades were bestowed on the mouse and wrist cushions in the IMAK line via the consumer ratings site Buzzillions.

Also, in 2010, the company received national press in an article in the Wall Street Journal, which discussed runner’s knee and products to treat the problem. In 2011 the IMAK SmartGlove was listed as one of the top five products for Facebook gamers by games.com. Also, 2012 brought continued success for Brownmed, as stories from top arthritis bloggers continued to be tweeted, blogged about and discussed in patient forums. With products shipped worldwide, Brownmed has also been named Exporter of the Year by Think Global/Commercial News USA.

As Ivan Jr. considers how far the company has come and the recognition it’s received, he is proudest of the team at Brownmed. Prior to major growth in recent years, Brownmed remained flat during the recession. He says the company has never laid off employees, but rather thought creatively about how to keep staff on board. In fact, Brownmed treats employees with the same care as customers, and fosters growth and education among the staff. Ivan Jr. hopes his employees feel their lives are improved by working at Brownmed, just as patients’ lives are improved through using the company’s products.

According to Ivan Jr., many employees have been with the company 10, 15 or 20 years. “Several have gone back to school to earn college degrees as their own children approached the typical university years,” he says. “Brownmed has supported employees through a number of personal challenges as well, and truly cares about staff’s well-being, both at work at in the community.”

Looking toward the future at Brownmed, Ivan Jr. says the company will continue to embrace its motto: improving life is our passion. The company plans to stay ahead of the curve with innovations and is preparing new products for launch in 2013. Going forward, Ivan Jr. reports that Brownmed will continue to grow with a dedication to consistent relationships in sales and production of quality products. Ivan Jr. is proud to report he will be happy to lead the way as Brownmed Inc. expands into another 50,000-square foot addition to manufacturing headquarters.