A minor league baseball player-turned-entrepreneur has a product parents embrace. His next goal: get it into more hands.
Matt Bruback thought his mid-30s would be the peak of his professional baseball career, striking out major league hitters.
Instead, Bruback, 36, is hurling toward a nobler goal: to help about 6,200 Sarasota County Schools students with special needs get a device he invented, the Miracle Belt.
The Miracle Belt is a weighted sensory device that helps disabled children control their bodies better. This kind of sensory issue, knowing where you are in space, impacts children with a variety of conditions, including cerebral palsy, autism and Asperger’s syndrome. The Miracle Belt helps overcome those balance issues through a system of weights around the waist.
Bruback, who runs a company that created and sells the Miracle Belt, Sarasota-based Original Diamond Designs, is one of the driving forces behind Miracle at Suncoast. It’s a fundraiser scheduled for Nov. 19 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Suncoast Motorsports on Tamiami Trail. Tickets are $95 for the general public, and $45 for teachers. The event includes an open bar, silent auction, live music and a Porsche fashion show. The goal of the event, hosted by the Education Foundation of Sarasota County in collaboration with the Florida Occupational Therapy Association, is to raise $310,000.
The financial target, says Bruback, will be enough to provide every student in Sarasota County a Miracle Belt. “This is a unique opportunity to really help this population,” said Bruback.
“We hope this product will help students be successful in school,” added Elena Vizvary, the department chair for occupational and physical therapy at Sarasota County Schools. “I have to give Matt a lot of credit for getting all these groups involved.”
A Sarasota resident, Bruback invented the belt in 2004 for a physical therapy tool to help with his balance while undergoing rehabilitation for a knee injury. Bruback pitched in the minor leagues for nine years. A onetime star with State College of Florida in Bradenton, he spent time with the Baltimore Orioles, San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs organizations. He had several Major League Baseball spring training tryouts.
Bruback set out on a career in business after his baseball life ended. With a desire to become his own boss, he tried several different entrepreneurial pursuits. The list ranges from a jewelry design company to a juicer products distribution firm and a honey business to a skateboard design center. “I’m a little bit of an eccentric guy,” Bruback told the Business Observer, sister paper of the Sarasota Observer, in 2012.
But the Miracle Belt is Bruback’s brightest business star.
The belts are sold online at miraclebelt.com and worldwide through more than 30 distributors. (That doesn’t include the company’s former top distributor, School Specialty, which filed for bankruptcy in early 2013.)
Annual sales have mostly been in the six figures, sometimes lower. It’s enough to survive, says Bruback — but not much else. “A lot of companies start up in the garage,” Bruback says. “We are that kind of company.”
Bruback, who had some sensory issues when he was a young child, initially called the product the Balance Pro SportBelt. He planned to market it to golfers, to help with their balance. But then he met some people at a golf products trade show who told him about the possibilities for disabled children. That’s when he changed directions.
The business has since become a calling, despite some significant obstacles. One big challenge is to get to a tipping point of national interest about the belt, where branding and marketing comes easier. Bruback, essentially, seeks his Today Show moment.
“The thought of helping children walk for the first time, helping children sit and enjoy dinner with the family for the first time, helping a child sit up when doctors labeled him a vegetable and would not gain mobility” is what motivates me, says Bruback. “I wish I could give these away for free.”
If you go
What: Miracle at Suncoast; goal is to raise $310,000 to provide a Miracle belt for every child in Sarasota County diagnosed with special/sensory needs. The belt promotes self-calming, balance and increased body awareness.
When: Nov. 19, 6 to 8 p.m.
Where: Suncoast Motorsports; 5005 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
Tickets: $95 for the general public; $45 for teachers
Activities: Event includes an open bar, silent auction, live music and a Porsche fashion show.
Hosts: The Education Foundation of Sarasota County in collaboration with the Florida Occupational Therapy Association.
Contact: [email protected]