Rochester inventors use duct-taped creation to put their best foot forward

A retired IBM engineer created a device with duct tape and foam in his garage to help heal a wound on his foot. Now he's partnering with Limb Lab, and he and his wife have patented three inventions to fix foot and shoe problems.
Gary Stowe, left, a retired IBM engineer, and Brandon Sampson, co-founder of Limb Lab, developed a customized foot orthotic to be worn in different types of footwear for any kind of activity. The two are pictured holding the original prototype designed by Stowe, held by Stowe, and the final product, held by Sampson, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Gary Stowe, left, a retired IBM engineer, and Brandon Sampson, co-founder of Limb Lab, developed a customized foot orthotic to be worn in different types of footwear for any kind of activity. The two are pictured holding the original prototype designed by Stowe, held by Stowe, and the final product, held by Sampson, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

After struggling for months with a wound on his foot, a Rochester man grabbed some duct tape and foam and headed to his garage.

The result not only healed him, but led to a very Rochester-centric collaboration involving engineering, medical expertise and entrepreneurship. That combination has led to three patents and three products, just two years later.

It started with retired IBM engineer Gary Stowe’s feet. He had long suffered problems with his feet, resulting in many surgeries and casts.

Two years ago, his doctors at Mayo Clinic were trying to heal a wound on one of his feet. After six weeks in a walking boot, it still wasn’t healed. Doctors were suggesting a few weeks in a cast, something Stowe knew would restrict his movements.

“I couldn’t do that with all the fall yard work I needed to get done,” he said as a true Minnesotan. So he applied some of his experience with packaging at IBM and packing moving vans in his youth to create a simple, but novel solution.

Stowe’s duct tape and foam insert was not like the typical one-dimensional shoe insoles. It cradled the foot to keep it from moving inside the walking boot. He used the same approach that he used to pack a van to keep everything inside safe.

Wearing the homemade orthotic device, he tackled his pressing yard work. After four hours, Stowe took off the boot expecting to see the familiar blood stains from the wound.

“I was amazed. There wasn’t any,” he said.

Gary Stowe, left, a retired IBM engineer, and Brandon Sampson, co-founder of Limb Lab, developed a customized foot orthotic to be worn in different types of footwear for any kind of activity. The two are pictured holding the original prototype designed by Stowe, held by Stowe, and the final product, held by Sampson, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Gary Stowe, left, a retired IBM engineer, and Brandon Sampson, co-founder of Limb Lab, developed a customized foot orthotic to be worn in different types of footwear for any kind of activity. The two are pictured holding the original prototype designed by Stowe, held by Stowe, and the final product, held by Sampson, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

After a couple more weeks using his garage creation to protect his foot, doctors declared his wound completely healed.

“Then I went to my physician with it (his foot device) because maybe this could help a lot of other people,” said Stowe.

That led to an introduction to Brandon Sampson, the founder and leader of Limb Lab. Limb Lab is a growing prosthetics and orthotics firm based in Rochester with six locations across the U.S.

“It’s such a simple solution. It all came from this guy’s brain in his garage,” said Sampson, gesturing to Stowe. “Most foot orthotics are one dimensional … we’ve always been focused on ground force. This is a three-dimensional way to stop the foot from moving inside the shoe. It removes tolerance in all three dimensions.”

Stowe and Sampson consulted with orthopedic experts and began to work on creating a customized foot orthotic to be worn by anyone in any kind of shoe doing any kind of activity.

After some discussions, an unexpected contributor stepped up and added another dimension to the project. Brenda Stowe, Gary’s wife, brought a big cardboard box full of retail shoe insoles, heel pads and other products that she used to make shoes fit correctly.

“I didn’t know that box existed,” said Gary Stowe.

Brenda Stowe assured them that a lot of women have a similar box, given the challenges of fashionable footwear that often leads to women carrying their shoes by the end of a night out. She added her design to the mix.

In the end, the foot-focused start-up created and patented three products under the corporate umbrella of Foot Pact.

  • The Foot Pak – An off-the-shelf, customizable kit for physicians and wound specialists to use in treating foot wounds.

  • Morthotic – A custom-created foot orthotic to help people with foot issues. This product would be fitted and customized by a prosthetics clinic, like Limb Lab.

  • Flex-i-sizer – An off-the-shelf adjustable shoe insert that anyone could use to make a shoe fit better using the 3D packing concept. This one is patented by Brenda Stowe.

“It’s about having the right product at the right place,” said Sampson.

The Foot Pact leaders are now talking to manufacturers interested in licensing the ideas and getting the products on the market.

Whatever happens next, Stowe is pleased with the collaboration that he sees as a true example of Rochester’s strengths being brought together.

“I’m from Rochester," he said. "I didn’t really know what DMC (Destination Medical Center) was. To me, this is DMC. Bringing IBM, Mayo Clinic and entrepreneurs together.”