An Indian Entrepreneur’s Unexpected Exercise Innovation

The idea Arnav Dalmia and two friends came up with at the University of Chicago didn’t work out exactly as they had expected.

The three foreign-born undergraduates — two studying economics, one biology — designed an elliptical exercise machine small enough to fit under a desk. The goal was to give office workers an easy-to-use, yet effectual means for “active sitting.”

The company, called Cubii, certainly did tap into the U.S. market. Just four years after launching, the startup has 100,000 active users and enough ongoing interest to support a staff of 10 at its Chicago headquarters. But in an unexpected twist, about half of Cubii’s sales go not to office workers, as intended, but to others who are confined to a chair — like those who for any multitude of health reasons are unable to get on a bicycle, move about a gym, or perhaps even walk around the block.

“We get calls from people saying Cubii has literally changed their lives,” Dalmia says. “That is the most heartwarming thing you can imagine.”

Dalmia moved to Chicago in 2009 from his home in India to attend college. There he met fellow students Shivani Jain, who is also from India, and Ryota Sekine, who is from Japan. They hold two patents on their work.

“Over time we realized that an increasing number of our users are going through some kind of medical condition, ranging from cancer rehab, physical therapy, arthritis, diabetes, or some kind of limited mobility,” says Dalmia.

It brings tears to our eyes.

The seven people he and his co-founders have hired were all born in the United States. Their median annual salary is about $80,000. Cubii’s retailers and contractors are all based stateside. Nonetheless, Dalmia sees his contribution to the U.S. in the calls and emails he receives from customers, particularly those without many options for exercise. “It brings tears to our eyes,” he says.

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