Gravity Ball Health Systems is one of the latest local start-ups to benefit from a Kiva loan with the assistance of the Long Beach Economic Development Department (EDD). The business created a new fitness product that provides grip-free strength training. Pictured from left: Semira Araya, business development specialist for the EDD; Nicole Tolmier, content and operations leader for Gravity Ball; and Mark Chavez, Gravity Ball founder and CEO. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Brandon Richardson)

What began as a solution to help a family member regain autonomy over his weight lifting routine following an injury eventually turned into one of Long Beach’s latest start-ups: Gravity Ball Health Systems. Developed by former emergency room physician Mark Chavez, the Gravity Ball is an innovative new tool that allows individuals with limited gripping capabilities an alternative to traditional weight lifting. With the assistance of the Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (IIE) at California State University, Long Beach and the Long Beach Economic Development Department, Chavez and his team were recently able to secure a $10,000, 0% interest loan to advance their start-up business.

“My father was a body builder, which required him to have good grip strength to hold weights. After he lost that ability, I was trying to figure out a way to exercise without him using weights without him having to grip it,” Chavez recalled. “So that is how the concept of the grip free resistance came about, and the Gravity Ball method.”

Chavez partnered with Nicole Tolmier, who became his content and operations leader, to development a handmade prototype of the Gravity Ball – a weighted ball that attaches to the hand with adjustable straps, enabling a variety of grip-free, strength-building exercises. They entered the concept in the Institute’s 2018 Innovation Challenge in the hopes of winning seed funding. Although Gravity Ball placed as runner-up, Tolmier said the competition helped them develop a stronger business model moving forward. “When you’re developing something from scratch . . . you can hit a lot of road blocks during the learning process. The innovation challenge provided more structure and provided a lot of faculty input. It was very helpful in refining [our business model],” she explained.

IIE’s director, Dr. Wade Martin, continued to offer his guidance to Chavez and his team after the competition. It was Martin who suggested Gravity Ball Health Systems would be a good candidate for Kiva Long Beach, a program through the economic development department that enables local businesses and entrepreneurs to apply for 0% interest loans. The institute is one of 13 Kiva trustees in Long Beach – designated community organizations that are pre-approved to vet and mentor Kiva loan recipients – according to Semira Araya, business development specialist for the economic development department.

Kiva loans are partially crowd-funded – once someone is approved for a Kiva loan, he or she is responsible for crowdfunding half of the loan amount. The total loan must be repaid within three years. Gravity Ball Health Systems applied for a loan in January and was fully funded within three weeks, Araya said.

“The loan is going to help us make a video exercise library,” Chavez said, explaining that the videos will help users learn how to use the Gravity Ball. “The second part of the loan is going to help with creating a certification program, so if you are a fitness professional who works in the industry you will be able to get certified in the Gravity Ball method . . . just like you can get certified in Pilates or yoga.”

“They are a great example of the growing entrepreneurial system in the City of Long Beach,” Araya said. “By providing this support, that’s getting us one step closer to make sure that businesses like Gravity Ball Systems that are innovative and add value to the business community here stay here in the City of Long Beach.”