He helps keep athletes and regular folks in the game

Bill Schultz is founder of Alignmed, a Santa Ana company that makes shirts and other products for people with chronic back pain.
(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

The gig: Plagued by severe back pain, Bill Schultz didn’t like his options -- surgery, potentially addictive painkillers or suffering in silence. Schultz not only found an alternative, but he also wound up turning his idea into a thriving business. Schultz, 58, is the founder and president of Alignmed, a Santa Ana company that makes shirts, vests, bras and other products for people with chronic back pain.

Walking tall: Using what Schultz calls tension technology, the company’s products incorporate so-called neurobands to pull shoulders into a natural upright position. The fabric panels stimulate neural receptors and activate and support back muscles, Schultz said.

Power users: Athletes say Alignmed’s products reduce muscle fatigue and help them recover more quickly from back and shoulder injuries. Fans include former Los Angeles Laker Dwight Howard, who wore an Alignmed “posture shirt” on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Winding path: Schultz didn’t exactly take a direct route to his current business. Born in the middle of a seven-child family in Minnesota, Schultz said he recognized that “without some kind of scholarship, I wasn’t going to make it to college. So I really pumped it out at soccer,” winning financial aid to attend Augsburg College.

School’s hard knocks: Schultz studied journalism, but soccer’s physical demands took their toll during those years. “It probably had something to do with the downfall and injury to my back,” Schultz said.


Risk taker: “In my senior year, I went to California to seek my fame and fortune and get in the movies, in music and script writing,” Schultz said “L.A. was the place for that, so I loaded up my ’67 Mustang convertible and the $500 that I had accumulated.” Fame and fortune were elusive. It was much easier catching a regular job.

Regular work: “Lo and behold, I went to work for 3M Orthopedics,” Schultz said. “They put me in customer service. I did a good job…. Then 3M put me into orthopedic product sales. Out of 80 people, in my first year, I was No. 1 in sales.”

Hitting his stride: Schultz seemed to have found a professional niche. After seven years at 3M, Schultz worked at two small orthopedic equipment start-ups before launching his own medical equipment supply company, Team Surgical. His wife’s job as a UC Irvine administrator provided enough financial flexibility to allow him to sink his profits back into the company.

A painful turn: Eventually, with three ruptured discs in his spine, Schultz began to search for relief that didn’t involve the surgery that his doctors kept advising. He found a chiropractor who did an elaborate athletic tape job on his back. Schultz was stunned; it worked. “I could feel this tape tugging on me, and I’m going, ‘Wait a second,’” Schultz said, “Something’s going on here. So I focused. I turned my company, Team Surgical, over to my employees, sold off the pieces of it, and I said, ‘You know, I don’t need to leave medicine.’”

Epiphany: In 2006, Schultz formed Alignmed, which has since grown to 14 employees. He acquired the technology, got rid of the sticky tape and enlisted a support team of well-known doctors as advisors. In 2016, buyers from around the world bought $5 million worth of Alignmed products. The products range from $45 insoles to a $345 prescription spinal brace.

Risky business: Schultz acknowledges a tolerance for risk, from relocating to California with $500 in his pocket to dumping a profitable business to try a new venture. Then there was the time he decided to stage his favorite rock album, the Who’s “Quadrophenia.” In 2005, the frustrated writer sank six figures into a two-night production at the Grove in Anaheim. A reviewer at the time said: “The venture, which includes no actual members of the Who, is mathematically certain to lose money.” Friends could barely contain themselves, Schultz recalled. “Anybody who was in ear shot of me was questioning whether I should be checked into a clinical facility,” he quipped.

Personal: Schultz and his wife, Eliana, have been married for 22 years. They have four children. In his off hours, Schultz said he likes to relax by going freshwater fishing. “And,” despite the “Quadrophenia” fiasco, he said, “I still love rock operas.”

For more business news, follow Ronald D. White on Twitter: @RonWLATimes