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A little room on the balance sheet means a lot to the patients Ortho Medics helps

A chance meeting one day with a new lender in their Kearney strip mall led to better cash flow for their small business and the resources to hire a new technician to continue to provide much-needed orthotic and prosthetic services to their neighbors.

One day last year, Jeff Kreycik of the State Bank of Riverdale dropped by to introduce himself to Darren Wiens and Jake Sikes, and visit their business, Ortho Medics.  The lender just opened a branch in the nearby strip mall, and was scouting for new business.  As it happens, Wiens and Sikes had been tossing around some financing ideas -- to start Ortho Medics in 2007, they both had to mortgage their homes and were eager to get out from under that.

How the business came to be, Wiens said during a recent interview on Kearney's KGFW-AM , "is actually kind of a funny story.

"I remember starting the business with Jake and telling my wife, we’re going to use the house as collateral," Wiens explained, "and she gave me that look like, 'oh, good God, what am I getting into.'  We were real confident, though, we had a good business plan and everything, and we thought it would work well, as long as we worked hard. Fast forward a few years, we had a couple of different loans for the business, and we wanted to bring everything together."

That's where the visit by Kreycik came in.

"So I said, you know, if you had the ability to give us a loan that would take our house off as collateral and combine everything into one loan, give us a lower interest rate so we’re paying less a month, we’ll do it," Wiens said during.  "And it was kind of a shot in the dark, we really didn’t think it would actually happen."

Kreycik was determined to get the business the financing it needed, and after getting some guidance from the lender relations specialists at the Nebraska District Office, got an approval Oct. 18, 2010, for an SBA-backed loan under the Rural Advantage Program.

In this case, the small business’ assets were enough to fully collateralize the loan.

"When we started the business we really focused on the patient part of it, working with the doctors, the hospitals," Wiens said.  "So with us, we did really well on the patient side then learned on the back end how the business side worked.  And that's where we learned a lot about that, going through the loan process."

Wiens also explained from his point of view the SBA loan process wasn't much different than the work going through a regular commercial loan.

"I think a lot of people have this image that you’re going to be sitting down with a banker and you’re gonna be filling out tons of paperwork, with all your tax returns, your accounts receivable," he said.  "Well, if you sit down with a bank, they’re going to want all the paperwork anyway.

"If you want to get your house off as collateral, if you want to use just your business assets as collateral, why not take the extra couple of weeks, because you’re going to fill out the paperwork out anyway for the bank," he added.  "So do a little extra for the SBA, get yourself free and clear, and that will allow you to do so much more through the business."

The $150,000 loan was approved by the SBA using the provisions of the Jobs Act; the banker got a 90 percent guarantee, and the borrower fees were waived for Ortho Medics.  More than getting his house out from under the collateral requirements, the business also improved its monthly cash flow.

"That was a huge win for us," Wiens said.  "It allowed us to bring on another person as a technician, and we ended up buying out another company in town," and which ultimately meant they could handle more patient needs.

And that's where the story of this business really begins.

Wiens first got the idea for his business more than 10 years ago after competing in a decathalon against a top-ranked paralympic athlete training for the 2000 Olympic Games in Australia. Not only was Wiens amazed at his competitor's ability to compete, but beat most of the able-bodied athletes.  Determined to do something different with his life, Wiens saw a career doing just that by providing prosthetics and orthotics to get people back and active again.

Visit their web site and you'll learn Ortho Medics takes "great pride in finding innovative, creative solutions to provide our patients and community with the highest quality care available."  They mean it, from prefab orthopedic and prosthetic limb braces and supports for spinal trauma patients, to unique casting and custom fabrication the competition doesn't offer.  They'll visit their patient to take measurements and get to work; Wiens admits sometimes being up past all hours in the lab just to make sure a patient can get a device the next morning and take that first step toward a new life.  And they're always seeking out emerging technology to help even more.

Wiens said its important his business takes the time to listen to their patients, to learn their expectations for their activity level and lifestyle, so they can design something that fits.  "If you really listen to what motivates a person, it's easier to explain to them what we're trying to accomplish together."

He's also helped two of his colleagues start their own Ortho Medics facilities in Norfolk and Omaha, "because they share the same patient care philosophy."

That alone sets Ortho Medics apart.  But then there's the story of how they spent thousands of dollars of their own money and traveled more than 2,200 miles just to help cast and fit prosthetic arms and legs for desperately poor amputees victimized by civil war in Nicaragua. Sikes and his uncle started a charity three years ago, Step Global, to enlist the help of like-minded volunteers like Wiens to rework secondhand prosthetics that can't be re-used in this country for dozens of grateful souls in the Central American nation. 

"You see these people that haven't taken a step with their leg in five years," said Wiens in an interview with the Kearney Hub. "Then, they get up and take a step."