A Boca High graduate turns an athletic setback into an entrepreneurial home run
JC Coban could have been on track for the Major Leagues. Instead, the catcher for Boca Raton High School’s baseball team, class of 2011, sells T-shirts for a living. At $50 a pop. And new orders come in every day through his website.
The career shift was, literally, a painful one. Coban tore the labrum in his right shoulder during his junior year at the University of Tampa. He endured three surgeries to repair the fibrocartilage, eventually gaining full mobility of the shoulder—but he would never make it on a professional diamond.
“I knew it was a part of reality that that could be it,” says Coban, now 26 and living in Delray Beach. “But I’m a firm believer that when one door closes, another one opens. Without that happening to me, I wouldn’t have been able to come up with this for myself.”
By “this,” he’s referring to his patent-pending invention, the SlingShirt (left)—a T-shirt specially designed for patients recovering from shoulder surgeries. From the outside, the shirts, available in navy blue, light blue and black, appear as ordinary garments. But they’re equipped with magnets along one side so that injured owners can slip into them even if one of their arms is in a sling.
The invention emerged as more of a life hack than an entrepreneurial venture. Coban developed the idea after his second surgery, when he began to search for a product that didn’t exist.
“It was a necessity for myself,” he recalls. “I was still in college, about 22 years old, and I didn’t want my mom to help me get dressed for class. I wanted to stay independent, and not have any hiccups in my everyday life.
“I looked online and really couldn’t find anything. There were a couple different systems, like with Velcro and buttons, and a hook-and-loop system. But there was nothing that would benefit me to do independently. I’m not able to lift my arm vertically orhorizontally. I need to be able to put the whole shirt on with one hand. Having the magnets helps to do that, because they attach by themselves.”
Coban soon realized his product had applications beyond his own situation, and those of his fellow-athletes. According to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, more than 1.4 million shoulder arthroscopies are performed worldwide each year. Labral surgeries are especially common in older patients, as part of the wear and tear of daily life.
“I’m finding out, after helping out 3,500 people, that the majority of my customers are 50 and up,” he says. “A lot are women buying things for their husbands. When a person goes into surgery, it doesn’t just affect them. It affects the whole family. You’ve got the mom, the husband, the wife driving them to the emergency room. It’s a team effort, so we wanted to make it as seamless as possible.”
Coban has shipped SlingShirts to all 50 states. He’s the founder and spokesperson, and his mother handles distribution. Even without a patent—that process has stretched on for years—Coban has spread the word through online advertising, medical conferences and brochures in local doctors’ offices.
Like most small businesses, he’s looking to grow—by expanding his startup into a “one-stop shop” for surgical recovery. He foresees a complete package of SlingShirt-branded gear to make hospital stays more comfortable, from scarves to beanies to hygiene products.
It’s all still a little surreal, when Coban thinks about it. “I never thought I’d be selling a shirt for a living,” he says. “It fills my needs. It fills that hole in my heart of missing getting on the field and playing baseball.
“Everything sort of happens for a reason. I’m starting to see that now, clearer by the day.”