… the people whose lives are changed—that’s what keeps
you motivated to keep pushing through the roadblocks. “ “
Company: AlterG, Inc.
IN 2004, 23;YEAR;OLD Sean Whalen started a master’s program in entrepreneurship at
Stanford University and thought he could use
some real-world start-up experience. He
looked no further than his parents’ garage.
Whalen’s father, Robert, was a research scientist for NASA and had invented an anti-gravity treadmill to keep astronauts fit in space.
“Growing up, I walked past the prototype
every day in our garage,” recalls Whalen, of
Fremont, California. “It was the size of a
The treadmill, which features a pressurized, sealed cockpit that users step into to experience a low-gravity environment, had never
been commercialized. Whalen wanted to
change that. “My dad thought it would be a
great learning experience,” he says.
Through a friend, Whalen contacted veteran marathon runner Alberto Salazar, who is
now with Nike, and asked him to evaluate the
prototype. Salazar was so impressed that he
put up $15,000 to help the Whalens buy the
raw materials to refine the prototype.
“We spent the next year working with
Alberto, getting feedback and tweaking the
project,” says Whalen, who graduated while
working on the project. “At one time, we were
moving couches around and laying out parts
for the prototype on the living room floor.”
In 2006, the company, which had been
incorporated as AlterG, sold its first commercial prototype to a professional basketball
team, the Washington Wizards. Salazar also
bought three for Nike’s Oregon Project, a program that supports and trains U.S. runners.
More high-profile sports organizations began
buying the $75,000 treadmills, and the com-
pany’s success ultimately attracted two rounds
of venture capital totaling $10.5 million.
Now Whalen has his sights set on the
medical market. A new, more economical
anti-gravity treadmill that sells for $24,500
will be used primarily for rehabilitation at
hospitals and physical therapy centers. The
company sold 30 of those machines in 2009.
Users include people with hip or knee
replacements—or more serious condi-
tions. “We’ve had people with Parkinson’s
disease use the product, and it helps
them maintain stability—they can
actually run on it,” says Whalen.
“Getting to see the reactions of
people like that—the people
whose lives are changed—that’s
what keeps you motivated to
keep pushing through the
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 23
deciding on a place to live in one of
Boston’s many distinctive neighborhoods.
The two pounded the pavement to
market their company, attending count-
less networking events for young profes-
sionals and chamber of commerce
meetings. And they tapped the college
market by offering seminars on writing
cover letters and résumés. Clients began
For apartment hunters, Launch Into
Boston charges $75 for a one-time con-
sultation plus a follow-up call. Smith,
who is also a licensed real estate agent,
can shepherd her clients through the pro-
cess of negotiating and signing a lease.
Job hunters typically pay Launch
$125 for consulting services. “Students
come to us and say, ‘This is my major and
I’d like to know what my job options are.’
We sit down with them and talk about
creating a network, take them to a networking event and follow up with them,”
says Smith, who quit her full-time job last
May to devote herself to Launch.
“It was really a leap of faith,” she
says, “but I said, if I don’t do this now,
Sean Whalen didn’t let
gravity get in the way
of a business idea. His
treadmills create a low-gravity environment to
help people exercise.