Dr. Von and Nicole Homer, husband-and-wife co-founders behind Hx Innovations Inc., are a couple on the move whose success stems from helping people learn more about the ways they move.
Like so many businesses, Hx Innovations takes a premise that might seem obvious – that the way we move can affect our balance, sports performance and potential for injury – and turns predicting and preventing injury and improving performance into a quantifiable science.
Von, who serves as the firm’s chief scientific officer, knows firsthand the ways in which one’s ability to move can affect everything else. As a scholar-athlete at McDaniel College in Maryland, he played both football and basketball while studying sports science and kinesiology. During a freshman-year football scrimmage he suffered a leg injury so traumatic that doctors initially said they’d have to amputate. Through his mother’s advocacy, doctors managed to save the leg, but Von then faced the challenges of losing his shot at collegiate sports and having to relearn a normal walking gait.
“Through that, he developed this passion for movement and understanding: How does the body move? What are the different systems that take place from a simple walk, from a simple run, from a jump?” says Nicole, who serves as the company’s chief operations officer.
His interest in body movement led Von to a certification in pedorthics, the practice of making braces, orthotics and foot and ankle devices. He went on to earn his master’s degree in biomechanics and human movement, then finally a doctorate in computational neuroscience. The idea for the company itself emerged nearly a decade ago from the technology that Von developed based on the question of whether his algorithms could predict human movement to prevent injury.
“The technology can predict the accuracy of movement and predict when there’s something off, so we can help people move more efficiently,” Nicole says. “As years progressed and our data enlarged, the algorithm became more advanced.”
While the science advanced, so did the search for places they could apply it. After Nicole, who was in the midst of her studies for a master’s degree in business administration, suggested doing a study on how they could apply the technology to the marketplace, she discovered that there was a significant need in the sports industry to predict and prevent foot and ankle injuries. She realized that their technology could potentially be used to test footwear for movement and endurance characteristics.
With a grant from the National Science Foundation, Hx performed pilot studies with professional, college and high school athletics programs, perfecting the technology and reporting.
“We found a need there, and we started building a plan around it,” Nicole says.
Nicole made building that plan easier thanks to her experience in supply chain logistics during her eight years serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“I like to build things and organize structures and foundations, so I think with our combined skill set, Hx was bound to come about,” she says. “If we create something and determine we can go with it, we’re going to press the limits, use our resources and do what we need to do to get it done.”
The moment when the pair realized they genuinely had a viable business model was in June 2019, when they officially established Hx Innovations. Six months later, though, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the pair wondered how a business built on in-person movement testing would be able to survive with lockdowns and social distancing in place.
They survived by pivoting back to the science that birthed the idea for the company – footwear endurance testing. Doing so allowed for a pilot program using small groups of people as the Homers waited for society to open back up. Eventually, they landed their first big footwear testing client, which gave them the extra boost they needed.
“We were excited that the science could solve a real problem in the footwear space, but decided to stay within sports science to meet a bigger need,” Nicole says. “Our resolve was to establish ourselves in the Delaware ecosystem and grow from there.”
That decision informed their next: to locate their practice at the Chase Fieldhouse in Wilmington. The site serves not just as the Philadelphia 76ers’ practice facility, but also the home of the Wilmington Bluecoats basketball team and a venue for youth sports games.
While attending their son’s soccer game at the fieldhouse, they noted the number of athletes on site. They also noticed the businesses located there specifically to serve the sports-centric customer base, including Nemours Sports Medicine for physical therapy and Titus Sports Academy for athletic training.
“We said, ‘They have sports medicine, they have sports performance, they have sports, but where is their injury prevention?’” Nicole recalls. They contacted the facility’s managing group and pitched themselves as a company that could add additional value to the operation. “Von showed them Hx technology, testing and reporting, and they loved it. The relationship has been growing ever since.”
Hx held its grand opening at the Chase Fieldhouse in March 2022. The company is offering its Power Performance and Footwear Endurance assessments as a service to the more than 30 basketball, soccer, volleyball, lacrosse, field hockey and flag football clubs and leagues who train or compete at the facility, giving Hx the opportunity to impact the overall health and performance safety of over 350,00 athletes who practice or play there.
Along the way, the tightly knit Delaware business community has helped Hx Innovations – which was chosen Technical.ly Delaware’s 2021 Startup Business of the Year – grow. Winning the Startup 302 competition for best science-based startup resulted not just in helpful feedback from other businesses, but also a new crop of clients. The Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation provided a business viability assessment and a clear path to scaling up the business. The Blue Hen 17&43 Award for Most Promising Venture validated their business model and impact potential. The Delaware Sustainable Chemistry Alliance (DESCA) Tech2Market program provided market mapping assessment tools and strategies.
“Those types of programs have been integral in providing the necessary tools to help us go in the right direction and give thought to the things we need to do progress,” Nicole says. “The support of Delaware adds to our strength.”