Extraordinary Products in a Growing Market

Entrepreneurs Rasheen Smith and Bejan Esmaili had a million-dollar idea that began brewing in the late ’90s. At the time, reports of traumatic renal complications suffered by such NBA all-stars as Sean Elliott and Alonzo Mourning, allegedly side effects from taking oral painkillers, dominated sports headlines. Smith and Esmaili, recognizing the market’s need for a pain reliever that would not need to be taken internally, developed a product that uses nanotechnology to penetrate the skin and deliver relief right at the site of aching joints and muscles.

In the beginning stages of developing the product, the two tested a variety of formulations–a heating (as opposed to cooling) sensation and several scents–before they came up with Flex-Power, an odorless heating cream in 2001. Smith, 29, and Esmaili, 42, spent $250,000 developing the product and testing it on professional athletes, many of whom were personal friends of theirs from college.

The development of the product was not without its trials. Once, in 2004, they were waiting for a shipment to send out to a fitness center chain in Japan that had a six-week lead time. Still in the early days of their business venture, Smith and Esmaili would check the product themselves before shipping it out. When they opened it, the cream was green instead of its normal beige color, and it had a gassy smell. This problem added four weeks to the shipping time. “It was fine though,” says Smith. “Luckily we had a really great relationship with the client.”

Good client relationships set Flex-Power apart from the beginning, but what spelled success was its use of nanotechnology. Under a microscope the cream looks like millions of tiny capsules called liposomes. Each liposome in Flex-Power resembles the layers of an onion, and each layer encapsulates the ingredients–trolamine salicylate, methylsulfonylmethane, and glucosamine–found in most over-the-counter pain relievers. Those “capsules” penetrate the skin and provide faster, sustained pain relief.

Flex-Power is poised to make a giant leap in revenues in part because of the popularity of the nanotechnology industry worldwide. In 2006, Flex-Power grossed revenues of $2.1 million; in 2007, revenues are projected to grow to $7 million. More than 20 athletes, including Jason Kidd, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Manu Ginobili, have become investors in the company. What percentage they make up was not disclosed, but their enthusiasm for Flex-Power is clear.

“This product is something I use, and so do other professional athletes and teams,” says New Jersey Nets superstar Kidd, an investor who will be featured in future marketing campaigns. “So I understand the business opportunity. I owned PowerBar stock, and I was part of the success of their growth and their sale to Nestlé, including doing marketing with them. I see a lot of parallels with this opportunity with Flex-Power.”

Nanotechnology is the engineering of matter under 100 nanometers–defined as one-billionth of a meter. By comparison, a strand of human hair is about 80,000 nanometers thick. This isn’t science fiction; nanotechnology can be found in everyday products ranging from dental adhesive to windshield treatments that