Entrepreneur Marien J. Zanyk, PhD, is a published medical scientist, orthopedic specialist, business strategist, patent holder, and inventor. She is also CEO and Founder of the Connecticut-based startup, Zaneez™ Freestyle Fitness, (formally known as W2Designs).
The company offers three innovative products aimed at the $500 billion fitness and wellness industry (all of which are under commercialization proceedings):
- WillowWORX™ Freestyle Fitness Station
- BedROK™ Evolution of the Yoga mat
- AngleSTONE™ for feet and ankles
The devices are orthopedic tools that assist in functional exercise and help with body promotion and injury recovery. Launch is within a six-month runway of funding confirmation.
Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price spoke with Marien about her entrepreneurial journey.
NAN PRICE: Have you always wanted to own your own business?
MARIEN: I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset. I began innovating at age 9, when I submitted a shoe design to Levi’s. I’m a passionate learner—I tend to accelerate quickly through academia and business strategy is second nature.
NAN: How did you develop the business concept for Zaneez?
MARIEN: The products were inspired by a combination of nature and “orthopedic engineering.” For years, I’ve enjoyed doing intense CrossFit workouts in the Connecticut forest. I use the rocks, trees, and cliffs to stretch, strengthen, and promote full mobility. I would specifically use the Connecticut Mountain Laurel trees, because they are pliable for resistance strength training.
Using the “tools in nature” for effective exercise, combined with my strategic mindset, I found a new and effective way to promote great health. I used these techniques to quickly recover from a Lyme Disease injury in my left knee—that’s when I realized I had something marketable. I knew right away I should patent the innovation and I have since developed the brand and its line of products into a viable business platform with an elite team.
NAN: Do you have a business background?
MARIEN: Yes, I’ve always been an astute businesswoman—from ownership to medical sales—with an ability to sense improvement strategies. But the combination of medical scientist with business, now that’s where it gets interesting!
I have advanced significantly in three-plus years in the areas of product development, business expansion, and patent and marketing promotion. A knowledgeable blend of anatomy, engineering, orthopedics, and business are pertinent to the advancement of our products.
I gained business and clinical exposure prior to starting my own company. I was a medical device consultant working with orthopedic surgeons, neurologists, and their patients. And I have an expansive approach and scientific perception. I also ran successful business ventures in other states.
NAN: You launched W2 Designs (now Zaneez) in March 2014. You’ve accomplished a lot in a short time.
MARIEN: I’m proud to say, I’ve brought three products to commercialization proceedings and have built a national team with global recognition. I tend to move quickly.
NAN: Along the way, you tapped into several Connecticut startup resources and organizations. Tell us about that.
MARIEN: Two years ago, I participated in the reSET Impact Accelerator, which was valuable in defining my value proposition as the program effectively forces the necessary pivots needed to lead toward success.
I have also been fortunate to work with Miki Ray and Joe Waxman, both renowned manufacturing/business mentors of the SCORE Mentoring Group. We traveled to China together to advance our manufacturing position.
I also connected with Candace Freedenburg, CEO of Untapped Potential. Her organization offers specialized recruitment and executive coaching of highly skilled women and has become a necessary asset to me.
Through the University of Hartford’s University of Hartford’s Entrepreneurial Center, I became involved with the Women’s Business Center. Melina Erwin, Program Manager at the Entrepreneurial Center, helped provide some funding, which enabled me to hire two consultants. And I was named a finalist in the InnovateHER Challenge, which was hosted Women’s Business Center.
Denise Whitford, Business Advisor at the Connecticut Small Business Development Center, also became a valuable business advisor and friend. We have plans to travel together someday.
The Connecticut Technology Council invited me to showcase the WillowWORX Fitness Station and consecutive products, BedROK and AngleSTONE at the 2016 and 2017 Innovation Summits. They also included W2 Designs in their list of Tech Companies to Watch.
I am one of the favorite startups with the SPRK Investor Network in Darien, CT and we’re embarking on investment opportunities and promotion.
I’ve had fun at Connecticut Innovations events: I pitched at a Crossroads Venture Group event at the University of Connecticut Center for Genome Innovation. I’ve been on Better Connecticut and I was featured on the covers of the Hartford Business Journal and New York City magazine.
We have penetrated Boston and New York City, too. The WillowWORX Freestyle Fitness Station won Audience Choice award at Boston’s Mass Innovation Nights. Our New York City investment recognition continues to grow as well, as new opportunities develop within the startup growth world.
Recognized as VIP of The National Association of Professional Women, and attendee of the Marcum Women’s Forums, I recently spoke with Chelsea Clinton and Erin Brockovich. I am now initiating a lecture series in New York City entitled “The Science of Empowerment™” with The Melini Group, a leadership in management company specializing in maximizing potential.
NAN: Aside from the proximity to the larger cities, what are the benefits of being a Connecticut-based company?
MARIEN: The Connecticut forest is inspirational to the basic design of our products. Being in Connecticut enables ideal exposure to the best business worlds and I thrive in the forest! I am actively branding our products and my speaking engagements throughout Connecticut and New York and interest in our products is now spilling into Greenwich, Boston, New York City, Miami, and areas of California.
NAN: What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a startup?
MARIEN: Funding. It’s always about funding for most startups! Our company has developed IP assets and achieved the level of being recognized to undergo commercialization internationally, and we require substantial funds to do this. I have self-funded and, with family and friends, raised significant amounts.
Now we are viable for late seed/Series-A, offering convertible notes. We are under review for working capital, for inventory launch of our products, and continued IP protection so we can continue bringing our products to the commercial and consumer sectors.
NAN: The health and fitness industry is a saturated market. What makes your products innovative?
MARIEN: We have created innovative and patented fitness equipment for functional movement and healthy urban living. We offer a solutions-based alternative to old-style heavy metal weights and equipment, using body weight and proper joint load.
The Zaneez equipment is proven effective to meet the universal needs to stretch, to strengthen, to recover from injury, and to help people live pain-free. Our products offer a solution for progressive and assistive movement and with patent protection in seven countries, our technology is customized innovation.
The efficacy of progressive loading and the use of chains of movement are conducive to recovery. Our products are orthopedically engineered to promote movement. The assistive progressions allow you to achieve beyond what you can do without the tools. So, they can be used to help people recover from injury and isolate certain joints—or for an energizing whole-body workout.
NAN: Who is the target market?
MARIEN: We are approaching the business-to-business and business-to-consumer markets. So, we target gyms and wellness centers, pain management clinicians and orthopedic surgeons, hotels, and homes, as well as fitness buffs and personal trainers.
We have identified more than nine markets and have goals to assist veterans and seniors. Our technology has been identified for astronaut application on the International Space Station for resistance strength and flexibility training—as recognized by the Chairman of the International Space Medicine Consortium (ISMC), Barry Ressler. But really, our equipment is for anyone who needs to stretch and strengthen with convenience!
NAN: You’ve made some impressive connections—is it all through networking?
MARIEN: The people I get to meet now are brilliant and inspiring. I’ve built an amazing team of partners and advisors. I like knowing that Barry Ressler, world-renowned particle physicist and advisor to me, is also advisor to Elon Musk. I met him at the New York City Private Equity Forum. When he saw the product, he said, “We need to talk.” We’ve remained connected since then.
I’ve also made some significant connections through networking. For example, a Stamford Networking event brought me to Joe Grace. He’s a top-tier marketing executive, well known in the consumer health and wellness brand industry. Joe was Senior Vice President of Marketing at WebMD, he is Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Suzanne Somer’s ThighMaster Company, and Chief Executive Officer of Health Marketing Partners. He’s now our Chief Marketing Officer.
I met Jim Huerta when I was a showcase company at the Connecticut Innovation Summit. Jim is Managing Partner of The Nessa Group in Stamford and has extensive experience with Fortune 100 ventures. He is our Chief Operating Officer/Chief Financial Officer. Jim and I have been working to continue expanding our exposure.
NAN: What’s next for Zaneez?
MARIEN: Our expansion continues with product recognition as a solution to the universal need to stay strong and flexible and to live pain free. The progressive assist of our equipment is appealing to all. And it’s easy to use…naturally.
With funding confirmation, we are aligned for launch with an elite international team. Under the expertise of Nixon Peabody, our IP commercial capital counsel, our IP asset value continues to rise. Our three-year projection shows attractive financial revenues and significant margins, which will increase as production cost decreases. We look forward to continued advancement.