Alumna Tanya Colonna Giving Athletes Winning Edge

Friday, March 18, 2022
Tanya Colonna speaks to a crowd.

Alumna Tanya Colonna is using her engineering, science and engineering management skills in a startup whose biomechanics device has earned an international innovation award and praise from world-class athletes and their coaches.

With fractions of a second deciding medal-winning performances, world-class athletes are beginning to tap into revolutionary and award-winning muscle activation technology developed by biomedical engineering, biochemistry and molecular biology, and engineering management alumna Tanya Colonna to achieve maximum training in sports and rehabilitation performances in other health care areas.

Colonna, a 2013 Rose-Hulman alumna, is chief executive officer of Oro Muscles, a Netherlands-based entrepreneurial startup that’s breaking boundaries by connecting muscle activity data to physical action. She is being assisted by former classmate Hobey Tam, PhD, a 2012 Rose-Hulman graduate, as chief technology officer.

Oro Muscles provides a medical-grade wearable, wireless device that takes the capabilities of motion capture labs out into the field to guide personalized workout programming. This technology was awarded the 2021 Wear It Innovation Award at Europe’s leading conference for wearable tech business professionals. Colonna also has been featured in a Med-Tech World presentation focusing on the leading innovations in emerging tech that are revolutionizing the European medical ecosystem.

Colonna remarked, “We started by asking a simple question: What if sports scientists, coaches and physical therapists could see inside the muscles? How would the ability to understand, on a local muscle level, how the body is responding to treatment/training optimize training and rehabilitation?”

While working with a Dutch Olympic speed skating team, Oro Muscles investigated how to quantify technique and training specificity on a local-muscle level. Insights discovered that although barbell-weighted squats took up 30% of the team’s training time, these exercises actively worked against the speed skater’s performance goals. This meant that 30% of their time and energy in training was not only lost, but also setting them back in attaining their goals.

“We have identified a gap in the sports technology market – there was something missing from what coaches could measure that made training interventions risky- our solution mitigates that risk by providing valuable insights into how athlete’s muscles to respond during training,” said Colonna. “This allows coaches/athletes to understand, on a personalized level, compensation mechanisms, which exercises lead to direct gains in sport-specific movements, and how to use this information to periodize their training and peak at competition.”

Watch this video to learn more about Colonna and Tam and their startup.

The device is in the beta-testing phase with 11 elite sites across Europe, Canada and the United States. These groups include Olympic-level and reigning world-champion athletes along with American NCAA Division I collegiate football teams and top-tier global physical rehabilitation centers.

Ham stated, “We have tapped the holy grail of sport science … embedded electronic technology has finally allowed microcircuits and wireless connectivity for large volumes of data to be transferred that would make surface electromyography (EMG) practical in a non-laboratory setting.”

There are other uses for this technology. Oro Muscles has secured a worldwide exclusive licensing deal with medical-grade (EMG) suppliers for both sports and rehabilitation, and their analytics platform was created to be extremely flexible. The company’s physical rehabilitation partners are validating the platform’s uses in orthopedic and neurological cases for return to play and helping decrease falling risk for people with movement disorders. This allows Ortho Muscles users to increase their quality of life and prolong personal independence. 

“It’s not just biomechanics,” said Colonna. “We optimize elite athletic training, rehabilitation and research in these areas all with the same fundamental technology. With our analytics capabilities, we allow these experts to get novel insights and enhance their capabilities-training interventions and expediting groundbreaking research. That’s great for the future of sports and health care as well as for the scalability of our company.”

Colonna’s interests in entrepreneurship resulted from her master’s degree studies in engineering management (2015) courses from department head Craig Downing, PhD, and associate professor Eva Andrijcic, PhD, and emeritus professor Tom Mason, PhD.

“I like seeing how things work and navigating through a strategy to build something new, innovative and useful. However, I get more excited about the business end, exploring new markets and understanding how all components of a business must work together, then composing a plan and executing on the details that are less technically oriented,” she said.

Downing adds, “Tanya’s desire to utilize her academic and professional experiences to improve an individual’s quality of life has always impressed me. Rather than taking a well-worn path through an established organization, she and Hobey continue to blaze a trail towards a successful entrepreneurial venture in the biomedical space. I truly believe they possess the technical skills and business acumen needed for the long run.”

Besides her work with Oro Muscles, Colonna is chief operating officer of Tardigrade, a technology consulting company, and co-instructor at the Netherlands’ University of Groningen and Clemson University in South Carolina.

Meanwhile, Tam, a biomedical engineering and biochemistry and molecular biology graduate, also is an adjunct faculty member at Clemson, where he earned a doctorate degree in bioengineering in 2016.

“Although we both studied the same undergraduate studies at Rose-Hulman, we have since developed complimentary skillsets and networks that allow us to not focus on one job, but rather on areas of expertise and interest,” said Colonna. “I explore the market to create an understanding of how the product must develop to have a clear/legal/marketable pathway to focus, revenue and scaling, while he works with our customers on iterative design and validation, while battling the technical hurdles of development. It is very important that we’re both aligned on what is possible for both technical and market development. If I sell something that is not technically feasible, we’re in trouble. If he spends time and money on developing something the market doesn’t need, we’re in trouble.”

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Contact the Tanya at tanya@oromuscles.com.
Learn more about Tanya in her Alumni Faces of STEM profile.
Watch Tanya’s 2021 Wear It Innovation presentation at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wePNsjAKn8c.

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