Mt. Sterling-based prosthetics manufacturer WillowWood is expanding its portfolio. The business is bringing its presence to Columbus with WillowWorks, an early-stage investment company offering capital, advisory services and commercialization support.
The 110-year-old WillowWood is under its fourth generation of family leadership with CEO Ryan Arbogast. Specializing in the manufacture of orthotics and prosthetics primarily for amputees, WillowWood has built a global presence selling in 30 markets across the world.
Arbogast knows the industry, and says it’s a great field to be in, “But we are really focused in our revenue and where we can make our money.”
To ensure that WillowWood could always carry out their mission of impact and level the playing field for amputees, Arbogast knew the operation needed to diversify its revenue stream.
Arbogast connected with John Choi, a software consultant for WillowWood with a passion for startups. They traded concepts back and forth for a few years before realizing now was the time to capitalize on their idea for WillowWorks.
“One of the things we knew is we have the ability to invest now,” says Choi, now the general manager of WillowWorks. “Business is stable, so if we’re going to do something big, something outside of the organization, we’ve got time to do it the right way.”
WillowWorks also looks to build on the strong, positive spirit surrounding the entrepreneurial community in Columbus and the Midwest.
The new venture can engage with emerging companies on capital, advice, space, or a combination thereof.
“We focus on early-stage investments where we can find those perfect opportunities to not only inject some capital, but offer some expertise and strategic advisement along the way as well,” Choi says.
In alignment with WillowWood’s mission, WillowWorks wants to look for opportunities where there’s not only a positive financial output, but a potential social impact as well.
“Our belief is that you can serve more than one goal at once,” Choi says. “We can make money, we can make good profit, and we can affect positive change.”
WillowWorks aims to build a balanced portfolio of ideators with napkin sketches, to established businesses with customers and revenue that are ready to scale. Since the goal is to diversify revenue, Choi says they are looking outside prosthetics to a spectrum of industries – everything from consumer products, to technology, to medical devices.
WillowWorks is taking on the space of its offerings in a big way, occupying 10,000 square feet of the Audubon Park Office Center, 371 Maier Place. The first tenant of the newly renovated portion, being nestled in one of the city’s premier Metro Parks is an amenity WillowWorks is eager to offer its partners.
Arbogast says the rural Mt. Sterling is a good fit for the manufacturing side of the operation, but WillowWorks needed to be connected and visible in Columbus. The square footage provides the flexibility for the space to become what it needs to based on the companies they are working with.
There’s formal and informal seating areas to meet with potential partners and really get to know the team and their business model. An entrepreneur could grab a desk at the office flex space situated on the mezzanine that also overlooks 5,000 square feet of open space that’s ideal for projects, building prototypes or even events. Right now, everything is an option as WillowWorks looks to find a balance of companies working out of the space frequently versus leveraging the open production space.
WillowWorks has been interfacing with companies locally, and recently formalized an investment with a spinal fusion company in Kansas City. The goal is to focus primarily on companies in the Midwest – and Choi and Arbogast are adamant about using the region to their advantage.
Choi says it’s past the time for cute labels; for trying to be the next “Silicon something.”
“What I would position is that in the Midwest, we have our own brand of innovation and that energy and credibility that we really need to embrace and push out,” he says.
Having traveled across the country and the world as head of WillowWood, Arbogast says people see value in the Midwest. The manufacturer has built a positive reputation in areas like follow through, diligence, ethics and working relationships.
“There’s a lot of benefits and values to branding as Midwest that I think WillowWood has taken serious advantage of and I expect WillowWorks can do the same thing,” Arbogast says.
All photos by Susan Post.