For Ryan Eder, it only makes sense that his journey started in the weight room. When this industrial designer saw someone in a wheelchair struggling to exercise, he knew that accessibility should be equitable. So, what did he do? He started IncludeHealth, an inclusive, integrated digital health company dedicated to providing next-generation tools to optimize human health and performance. And all because he sold glow sticks at Kings Island. That might be an exaggeration, but we never said Eder had a traditional path to entrepreneurship. Here, we talk about building a company from passion to powerhouse and why design always matters.
What was your childhood like?
I had a great childhood. I’m the oldest of four boys and I grew up in West Chester, just 40 minutes north of Cincinnati. When I was really young, I was into video games and I drew a lot…I mean, a lot. My big thing was getting comic books and buying poster board and drawing a bunch of spreads of the different characters in the comics. My love for drawing is what ultimately got me into design, which led me to my senior thesis 14 years ago that IncludeHealth is based off of. Everything roots back to my passion for drawing and my parents unwavering encouragement for me to pursue that.
What was your first job?
My first job was at Kings Island. I worked at one of the retail stores called On Location, which is next to the Drop Zone ride. It’s funny, because I remember they had TVs playing the same 13 music videos on repeat. The following year I said, “I need something different.” But I still stayed at Kings Island and sold glow sticks at night. I’d wander around the park with a bag full of glow sticks selling them to people until two in the morning.
You have a background in industrial design. How does that contribute to your view of the world or influenced your current passions?
Design is literally threaded into everything I do. “Design thinking” is an overused term, but when you go to design school, you learn to look at the world through multiple lenses. I learned to be very empathetic, to identify not my problems, but the other problems out there and figure out creative ways to solve them.
Specifically, when you get into product design or industrial design, it’s not just about solving problems, but also delivering something that people want to use. So, when I went to design school it was all about a tangible, physical product. Obviously, now product means so much more, but delivering solutions in a way that is meaningful, intuitive and engaging is fundamental to my thinking. You can have all the technology in the world, but if you can’t deliver it in an intuitive and meaningful way, it’s all moot, because no one is going to use it. That mentality contributes to every decision I make.
What was the spark that initiated the company itself? I know you said that it started from a senior thesis, but I’m wondering if there was any backstory that fueled your interest in accessibility and exercise?
Definitely, we call it our origin story. It all goes back to me being a student at the University of Cincinnati, studying industrial design. I was working out at a gym on the west side of town, and just by chance, happened to see a guy in a wheelchair at the facility and noticed him struggle while exercising. That inspired me to explore accessibility as my senior thesis and look at how to make personal health and wellness more inclusive. I did some immersive research like joining a wheelchair football league, renting wheelchairs, and going to local facilities and working with paraplegics and quadriplegics. I wanted to understand the basic elements of physical, emotional, cognitive well-being.
After I graduated, the original concept won some major design awards, creating an opportunity for me to pursue it further. With some early support from P&G and CincyTech in the form of small grants, I was able to pursue the idea on the side. It wasn’t until 2012 that I was able to raise the first major part of funding to start building a machine. A year later, we started to introduce the software that accompanied the workout machines so that users can keep track of their progress. Through the years, the software grew and evolved the company from focusing on accessible fitness to providing a next-generation digital health platform. We’ve now received 29 innovation and health awards, have over 25 patents and are deployed in orthopedics, neuroscience, pediatrics and long-term care.
How has working in the healthcare space transformed you?
It’s been transformative. I have been exposed to all different types of people and caregivers and different challenges within the industry. I started looking at things through different lenses and really getting a contextual perspective on the health system. It’s fueled my ambition to solve additional problems like administrative issues or navigating the reimbursement landscape — all in the name of providing better care. It’s extremely motivating to see your technology make an impact. There are so many great people that I’ve been able to collaborate and partner with to pursue this, it’s been fantastic.
How has building a company in Ohio shaped your startup?
Ohio has shaped me, which in turn has shaped my business. I’m a true believer of authenticity, and I wouldn’t feel like I’m being authentic to myself if I weren’t building IncludeHealth in Ohio. Ohio has a lot of fantastic things to offer. I mean, the communities alone and the ecosystems are great. Everything that these organizations are doing to reinvest in the communities and universities has been a tremendous help in our success.
What is the biggest change in the healthcare industry that you’d like to see?
I would like to see the focus less on dollars and more on outcomes. Everyone’s in it for all the right reasons, the challenge, though, is changing from volume-based care to value-based. Healthcare should be with someone their entire life to be preventive and not just reactionary.
What’s the easiest thing about being an entrepreneur and what’s the hardest?
What’s the easiest? You know, that’s a good question, because I think there’s a lot of people that romanticize being an entrepreneur. The reality of it is, at least in my experience, is that it’s extremely challenging all around. Being an entrepreneur is trying to create something from nothing. Missions move mountains. I honestly can’t think of anything that’s been easy outside of the fact that it’s extremely rewarding to be able to pursue your passion. I realize that’s a luxury. A lot of people don’t even have that opportunity, so I’m not going to complain about how hard it is to accomplish. It’s an amazing journey.