Standing desks – From bright idea to successful business venture
To quote Plato: “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
An ergonomic engineer by trade, Mark Benden, Ph.D., CPE, is always on the lookout for the latest and greatest innovative solutions to solve some of the most complex public health issues. Ten years ago, Benden developed workstations that would allow productivity while combating sedentary lifestyles – and so the idea of stand-biased desks was born.
Benden, an associate professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health, initially studied the health benefits of standing at work through the use of height adjustable tables and stand-up desks for adults. He found the most sedentary adults in the office were also the most obese. The research resulted in his theory of technology induced inactivity which led to early iterations of Benden’s first stand-biased desks.
With data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggesting childhood obesity had tripled in the last 30 years, in 2008 Benden shifted his attention to school-age children.
“Given the ever-growing epidemic, looking at solutions to childhood obesity was an obvious next step,” Benden said. “Different aspects of the school setting have been targeted, but one untapped opportunity was increasing physical activity during instructional time without disrupting planned instruction.”
Benden conducted a pilot study in 2009 in first-grade classrooms at College Hills Elementary in College Station, Texas, to determine the effects of standing-height desks on children. Findings indicated higher levels of calorie expenditure in students using stand-biased desks.
“Students in classrooms with the standing-height desks chose to stand more than two-thirds of the time and burned an average of 17 percent more calories overall than their classmates in traditional seated classrooms,” Benden said. “More importantly, overweight and obese students burned 32 percent more calories while working at standing desks.”
In addition to increased physical activity, teachers noted that standing desks seemed to increase attentiveness of students, while decreasing disruptive behavior.
In recent research with 400 students in three schools, the desks have also proven to have a positive impact on children’s physical activity as well as classroom engagement.
“We now know the stand-biased desks may very well be a viable strategy for addressing obesity while improving academic achievement in schools across the district, state and nation,” Benden said.
In the midst of local research on elementary-aged children, the entrepreneur at heart saw a market need for the product and co-founded PositiveMotion, LLC, a faculty-led startup company designed to develop several of his patent-pending stand-biased desk solutions.
In the fall of 2011, PositiveMotion received a $150k Small Business Innovation Research grant to fund the development of Stand2Learn™, an offshoot company designed to develop the classroom version of the stand-biased desks. In 2012, the company also received a startup fund investment from the Aggie Angel Network.
Today, Benden’s desk designs are derived from lessons learned through his research of working adults and students in the classroom. The company now has contracts with dozens of schools and has sold thousands of desks across the nation and in several other countries. Sales from these desks now generate quarterly royalty income for Texas A&M School of Rural Public Health for ongoing research.
In October, Stand2Learn™ received a $1 million grant from the CDC that will enable the team to conclude research on middle and high school students, while developing the next generation of patented desk designs.
“Necessity truly is the mother of invention,” Benden said. “We saw a need to address the growing obesity epidemic and, with support from several funding agencies and the university, were able to pursue a solution and commercialize the product.”