Tèa Phillips was one of five finalists invited to pitch MetaFlex Glove to a group of investors

Cookeville – Local engineer and business owner Téa Phillips wants to help people with the MetaFlex Glove (MF), an award-winning medical device designed by Phillips to improve hand health.

“The MetaFlex is incredibly important to me,” said Phillips. “I first met my co-founders, Ashley and Sergio, while studying at TTU. They brought me on board because they had an idea for an arthritis glove, and they needed someone to design it and bring it to life. Immediately, I knew the perfect design, then I began thinking about the end user, and my grandmother came to mind.”

Phillips said she saw her grandmother suffer from the disease and knew there had to be a better way.

“She had been struggling with arthritis for a while, not being able to do things she once loved like knitting, crocheting and gardening because they were too difficult – too painful,” said Phillips. “The solution to her problem was compression for pain relief and grip strengthening to increase her overall function and mobility and to reduce pain long-term.”

At the time, there were no solutions. Ingenuity was key and her grandmother had plenty. 

“My grandmother would solve this by holding a tennis ball in her hand and putting a sock overtop so her hand would stay open. She was very innovative,” says Phillips. 

Meta Flex

According to Phillips, compression gloves look too much like a device, and people don’t want to do the repetitive exercises it takes to ease the pain of arthritis. 

“The MetaFlex is the perfect solution,” says Phillips. “You wear the glove, it looks cool, and you improve mobility and reduce pain without changing your daily routine. It’s also helpful to wear at night because when you have progressed arthritis your fingers can begin to curl inward to make a claw shape while you sleep, and you will wake up with closed, stiff hands. It’s a painful problem to have. … The bands can be used to keep the hand open at night and it also has compression to improve circulation. For these reasons, this product felt like my responsibility to bring to life. I could see from the start how big of an impact it could have on people’s quality of life, and my mission is to help others.”

At 27 years old, Phillips, who is originally from Shelbyville, studied Mechanical Engineering at Tennessee Tech and now calls the city home, she is the first in her family to earn a degree. She soon took a job at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge. 

It wouldn’t be long until she would leave Oak Ridge. 

“Once I gained the knowledge I needed and made some money to support my goal, I quit to work on bringing the MetaFlex glove to the people who need it,” said Phillips. 

The design combines “the two most recommended therapies,” compression and grip strengthening. The gloves also have a grippy palm and touchscreen-compatible fingertips so they are “functional for everyday use.”

The MF is the first product in the world to combine compression and grip strengthening, according to Phillips.

“Compression improves circulation, which reduces pain, swelling and stiffness while our patented resistance bands work to keep the hand open, meaning when you close your hand you are working against those bands to build grip strength,” said Phillips.

Phillips recently attended the 10th annual LaunchTN’s 36/86 Festival, a festival dedicated to TN inventors and products, for the third consecutive year in 2023. This year, she was one of five finalists invited to pitch the MF to a group of investors.

“I always meet the most incredible and inspirational people there who are doing cool and important work to improve our community,” admitted Phillips. “The first year I attended was in 2018 when I pitched at the student competition. We won third place and $10K for that which was incredibly helpful. I went again in 2022 and this year I was invited to pitch on the main stage as one of the 5 finalists! I made so many connections there with people who can help me grow this company. It was an amazing experience and I look forward to attending again next year.”

An idea is only an idea until it becomes a dream, and a dream can come true if you put in the work. Phillips is proof positive, and she says there are two great ways to get started if you are inspired.

“The general advice I would give is to seek out mentors and do customer discovery early,” she says. “Your family and friends will tell you that anything is a great idea, so that’s not who you need to be talking to. You need to find people who have some knowledge you don’t and are willing to teach you and people who could be your end user. … Surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you is the key. You can’t do it alone.”

Phillips opened pre-sales in late 2022 and began shipping to customers earlier this year. Right now the company is “bootstrapped” or all the money is going back into the business and she has raised some money from investors. 

“Right now I’m working on closing my Seed Round (the first round of funding for a business). I’m halfway there, and then I can really begin to pump money into advertising and getting the word out that there is an innovative, affordable and effective way to manage hand pain and improve function and mobility!”

Phillips says she will be launching a sports version of the glove next year and that there are “many other designs in my notebook” both glove-related and not glove related.

“There is an opportunity here to really help people improve their quality of life,” she said. “As an inventor, I see most things that annoy me as an opportunity to make something that works better.”

Over the next five years, she wants to grow the MetaFlex Brand.

“All I can say is that I’m not stopping anytime soon,” she said.

Running a small business is not all sunshine and rainbows, but Phillips wouldn’t have it any other way. 

“It’s difficult,” she admitted. “I’ve been told no more times than I can count. You must be persistent, dedicated and have an unwavering belief. There’s a reason that not many people start their own business, but something being difficult doesn’t make it impossible. If you want to do this, reach out to your community, don’t do it in a vacuum, lift each other up, and to end with a quote from one of my favorite movies Meet The Robinsons, “Keep Moving Forward.”

For more information visit https://www.metaflexglove.com.

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Ron Moses is the managing editor of the Upper Cumberland Business Journal and can be reached via email. Send an email.

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