Trademark Attorney | "Digital business: Naples company gets grant to expand finger-making company"

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Category : Trademark Attorney 

Dreams keep coming true for Dan Didrick, the entrepreneur behind Naples-based Didrick Medical, whose life has been one fortuitous event after another.

His company, which assembles active-function artificial fingers for amputees, was one of 12 small businesses nationwide that each recently received a $250,000 grant from financial giant Chase in partnership with online business Living Social.

The grants enable small businesses to get to the next level of company growth.

"I will be able to come up with different sizes," Didrick, 42, said of his finger creations. "We can have inventory ready."

Didrick's six-page application to Chase and Living Social's grant program, Mission: Small Business, was among 70,000 applications submitted. He was presented with the grant Aug. 24 at a Chase branch in North Naples.

All the companies were judged on ability to demonstrate a feasible growth plan, creativity, passion for the business and desire to make a difference in the community.

"We were overwhelmed by the number of passionate small businesses that applied for the Mission: Small Business grant program and the number of consumers that showed their support," Richard Quigley, president of Business Card, Chase, said in a statement. "Every day, small businesses inspire us and fuel economic growth. (This grant program) is another way we can support small businesses for all they do in their local communities across the country."

For Didrick Medical, the community goes beyond being local. His community is people worldwide who have gone through the trauma of losing one or more fingers and who desire to restore use of their fingers through prostheses.

His company makes the only active-function fingers worldwide that he is aware of, and his patent is valid in dozens of countries, said Steve Harrison, of Naples, who serves as the company's accountant.

Didrick himself handles the finishing work for each prosthesis, called the X-Finger, to customize the stainless steel and plastic artificial finger or fingers to fit to conform to the patient. Flesh-colored silicone finger sheaths are worn on the outside.

"We can pigment them to add a little realism," he said.

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The finger segments are made of stainless steel and pins to mimic how fingers can extend and curl inward to grasp an object, type on a keyboard and a myriad of daily living tasks. The device doesn't need batteries and instead is powered by movement of the residual finger or opposing finger. A band around the finger or wrist holds it in place.

"It's really an evolving process," he said. "I'm on the 93rd revision. This is something as we have developed and gotten feedback on, we tweak."

The manufacturing of an X-Finger starts with a block of steel to cut out the components, which is sized larger and can be cut down to an individual's need.

The part components are made in China and elsewhere; no manufacturing is done in Southwest Florida.

The company doesn't have direct contact with patients. Instead the orders are placed through prosthetists who find his business through the website and order the devices for the amputees they are working with through medical centers.

"They take the measurements and send it to us, and they get it approved through insurance," he said. "Once they get pre-approval, we can assemble and fit to the patient."

So far, sales are "still in the hundreds," he said. "We have been actually selling for four or five years."

Harrison points out that the company hasn't had to spend any money on marketing, except through the company website, and not a single cold call has been made.

An order can be filled in 30 to 60 days, if all of the parts are available. The grant will help build an inventory.

More recently, Didrick Medical has launched a charity, World Hand Foundation, to help amputees in need who don't have insurance receive an X-Finger to help with their rehabilitation.

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The Chase grant adds to his growing list of accolades.

Didrick's invention has been featured on Modern Marvels on the History Channel and the television news program, "Squawk Box."In addition, X-Finger devices are on display in several museums, including the United States Patent and Trademark Museum, the California Science Center in Los Angeles, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and elsewhere.

He also was presented with the 2009 Perfect Pitch Award at the Entrepreneur and Investor Conference in Marina del Rey, Calif. The competition had submissions from eight countries and the U.S.

His accomplishments have taken him far for someone who got into the business of artificial fingers by chance.

Growing up in Ohio, he always planned to become a special effects artist. His father, a dentist, once had a patient who lost her nose, upper lip and nine teeth, so Didrick helped out.

"I made her a new face, a mask with a nose and upper lip," he said. "It changed my life. There's no reward for making ghoulish masks."

After graduating from Heidelberg University in Ohio, he moved in 1992 to Japan because he wanted to learn the language. He lived in the industrial area of Kawasaki where he encountered people who were losing fingers from manufacturing plant accidents.

"I began making cosmetic fingers," he said.

When he came back to the U.S. and moved to Naples, he met someone who was deaf and had lost a finger, making the person's ability to communicate through sign language challenging. He died before Didrick could get him an artificial finger with functional movement.

Lacking training as an engineer, Didrick purchased a computer-aided design program, Solid Works, then designed his first X-Finger.

"A patent attorney told me it would cost $10,000," he said of getting the patent.

He went another route, buying a book about self-patenting and did it himself in 2002.

"It's been 10 years," he said.

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