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Tippie Faculty Helps Local Entrepreneur Revolutionize Clubfoot Treatment

Four years ago, John Mitchell was making a handful of clubfoot braces out of his garage in Washington, Iowa, for the clubfoot patients of Dr. Ignacio Ponseti at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Today, with the help of a faculty member at the Tippie College of Business, Mitchell has made more than 11,000 Ponseti clubfoot braces from a factory near Mt. Pleasant and shipped them to dozens of countries around the world.

Ponseti is known for pioneering the Ponseti Method more than 40 years ago after he found that surgical operation created long-term negative effects on patients with clubfoot. Ponseti's treatment involves the careful manipulation of muscles, joints, and ligaments held in a series of casts and braces to reposition the foot back to normal. Ponseti is now 94 and is still a UI faculty member.

Mitchell recalled visiting with Ponseti's patients who had relapses because the braces were uncomfortable and caused sores on children's feet. This gave him the idea to create better braces that were much higher quality, more comfortable, and custom-fitted. According to Mitchell, parents loved them because their children weren't in pain and couldn't kick them off, prolonging treatment. When Mitchell needed capital to get his business—MD Orthopaedics—off the ground, Ponseti suggested that he meet with John Spitzer, clinical professor in the Tippie College of Business. He also met with David Hensley, clinical professor and executive director of the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, and John Buchanan, founder of RBP, an Iowa City financial services firm.

"John Mitchell is an entrepreneur with great integrity," said Spitzer. "His company serves a critical need in a very worthy cause, the nonsurgical treatment of children with clubfoot. I am happy that I was able to help John in the early stages of his company's development. It has been wonderful to see the business grow and prosper."

Spitzer was able to help Mitchell acquire capital funding from donations from the Ponseti International Association (www.ponseti.info), injecting cash into his business so that he could buy new equipment. Spitzer also suggested that Mitchell take a few business and entrepreneurship classes at the UI to learn more about running a high-growth company.

"He was my mentor," Mitchell said of Spitzer. "He helped me get paid for some of the first braces I made. He took me under his wing when I was still making braces out of my garage, and helped me get through the hardest parts of getting my business started."

Mitchell was unaware that he would impact people across the world when he first began making anatomy models for teaching in 1986. The Ponseti Method has become successful across the world in the last 10 years largely because of the Internet. Doctors from all across the world come toThe University of Iowa to learn about Ponseti's treatment.

The huge global demand for Ponseti's clubfoot treatment and Mitchell's innovative, comfortable and custom-fitted braces propelled his business exponentially in less than a year. In 2004, MD Orthopaedics manufactured a total of 73 braces for the year. Now, the company produces thousands of braces a year and ships them to 62 countries. Mitchell operates his business out of a new modern facility in Wayland, near Mt. Pleasant, and employs 13 full-time workers.

"It's unbelievable. Going from manufacturing braces out of my garage to running a global company within four years is incredible," Mitchell said. "I am truly blessed."

Visit MD Orthopaedics on the web at www.mdorthopaedics.com or call 319-256-5656 for more information about clubfoot treatment options.


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