Spand-ice vest

Like many great ideas, Helen Behn’s Revive Tank was born out of a need.

“I have hyper-mobile spine, which means it is super bendy, and I hurt myself all the time,” she says.

Her desk job inflamed the situation—at its height, she would have to get up every 15 minutes to stretch her back. Yoga class could aggravate her back for days. To ease this chronic low back pain, Behn visited a physical therapist, got cortisone shots and popped so much ibuprofen she developed a stomach ulcer.

While ice was her magic elixir, stopping everything to lay down and ice her back back several times a day simply wasn’t practical. One day, Behn strapped an ice pack into a compression bandage and velcroed it onto her lower back just so she could “feed the dog and do the dishes.”

It worked—and she realized she was onto something.

Behn looked into the marketplace to see if there was a product out there that accomplished these objectives: compression that’s easy to put on and easy to keep on, as well as adjustable and capable of using either ice or heat.

She came up empty so started her own company, Spand-Ice. Behn, 36, is familiar with the territories of the start-ups and apparel—she was the ninth employee and project manager for the website Lockerz and also worked as a project manager at American Eagle.

Spand-Ice is now ready with its first piece of apparel therapy—the Revive Tank, which aims to alleviate pain in the lower-to-mid back.

Here’s how it works: the interior of a vest holds a compression strap with pockets. Ice/heat packs slip into the pocket and the strap cranks down compression to your liking. The outer garment—which is made of spandex, neoprene and breathable mesh—zips up. “You can wear this by itself or layer it up,” she says.

“Using ice and heat for injury rehab has been around for a long time,” says Behn. “We’re just reinventing it to use it in a mobile and versatile way that works into people’s busy schedule.”

To build the 20-some prototypes, she went local. “I want to meet with people and establish a relationship with them. I like to look people in the eye when I’m doing business with them.”

She partnered with a firm that has a patent pending for a thermal therapy product that keeps its thermal mass for three hours.

Behn was glad “to support the strong entrepreneurial community in Pittsburgh. We’ve got an amazing network of people.”

Her local network includes: a fourth-generation seamstress, consultants that advised on sourcing and manufacturing, tech designers that fine-tuned the garment material and fit, a patent attorney, a market research team, media consultants, an advisory board that includes a physician and a retail executive, alpha testers, and start-up boosters Pantherlab Works, the Small Business Development Center and Thrill Mill.

The Revive Tank is in the final week of a Kickstarter campaign and has raised almost $24,000—just $6,000 short of her goal.

How is Behn’s back today? No more ibuprofen, no more stomach ulcers. No more NSAIDs. No more physical therapy sessions or visits to the chiropractor’s office. No more days off after weight lifting or Pilates.

“We’ve been working on this for two years,” says Behn. “It’s time to get this bad boy out there.”

Lauri Gravina

Woods wanderer who was an an editor at New England’s regional magazine, the research director of a Colorado newspaper and a farm hand in Vermont before returning to Pittsburgh to write about and explore...