Violinists often end up with poor posture and chronic pain from holding their instrument in an unnatural position, clamped between their shoulder and jaw. “Musicians have a really tough time of it,” says Michael Wiener. Around 20 million people play the violin worldwide. “We saw examinations of 20-year-old stars that showed they already had abnormal curvature of the spine. Because they have to spend hours in the same position, which causes nerve damage. Musicians deserve better equipment,” says Michael Wiener.
“Musicians have a really tough time of it”
The inventor Michael Wiener aims to make life easier for musicians with a patented violin rest. Manufactured by his start-up Dolfinos, the rest frees musicians from awkward postures and chronic pain. Because playing this classical instrument places considerable strain on the body.
The inventor painstakingly developed a violin rest that can be adjusted to individual needs and body shapes. Carefully attaching the patented adapter extends the sound spectrum and protects the delicate body of the violin. The slider system ensures that pressure is equally distributed across the entire contact area. Plastic-free natural cork protects the varnish. The height can be freely adjusted to prevent strenuous clamping.
Michael Wiener was a professor of psychology for 18 years and describes himself as an amateur violinist. As a music lover, he sometimes comes into contact with artists. That was how he learned about the downside of playing the violin. “I wanted to find a solution because I felt sorry for violinists and also because I’m interested in the technical side of things,” says Michael Wiener. He comes from a family of inventors. “My father spent lots of time tinkering with technical solutions. And as a teenager, I used to spend hours in the workshop. I still do today.” To him, failing is part of the process – as is keeping going after things have gone wrong. You can never be fully sure what will happen, he explains. “The feeling when you’ve found the solution is amazing.” To create the Dolfinos dolphin rest, he took a systematic approach, which entailed the following steps:
Michael Wiener wanted to know what had already been invented in this area. So he did an Assisted Patent Search at the IPI, among other things. “Numerous inventions had already been devised to solve the problem. I saw the strangest constructions that could only have been dreamt up by a designer, doctor or engineer working in splendid isolation,” he recalls. He also saw what markets the inventions were intended for. The search gave him a good overview of the state of the art.
Based on the search, he concluded that no one had tackled the problem scientifically so far, and that only an interdisciplinary approach could produce the right solution. He applied for backing from the Commission for Technology and Innovation for a research project involving doctors who treat musicians and acoustics researchers. As part of the project, 13 sensors measured muscle activity while violinists played and three cameras recorded their movement. At the end of this comprehensive research work, he had 42 gigabytes of data to evaluate.
The team carried out studies and meta-analyses at the same time. They discovered that 60–70% of the violin players surveyed had chronic pain. “They practise up to ten hours a day. At some point, that becomes almost impossible without painkillers and physiotherapy,” says Michael Wiener. The findings from this work and from numerous interviews with musicians led to the first prototype. Wiener says that the final result is practically an orthopaedic solution. “Many clients can play again thanks to us. The younger generation is also more prepared to invest in their health preventively.”
The inventor looked into protecting his intellectual property at a very early stage. “Together with a patent attorney, we were able to define a very strong claim for the adapter in the patent specification. That makes it difficult for competitors to circumvent the protection,” says Michael Wiener. However, the company prefers to use trade secrecy to safeguard the production of the micro-lamellar structure that gives the cushions a ‘gecko effect’. The shoulder rest is protected in the largest markets, that is, those with the greatest sales potential, which the team identified based on market research and their own experience.
Kurz vor Ausbruch der Corona Pandemie wurde erfolgreich die erste Variante der Schulterstütze lanciert, die es inzwischen auch als Variante für Kinder gibt. Innert 3 Monaten konnte Dolfinos ihren Direktverkauf auf über 40 Länder ausdehnen. «Allein der Umsatzanteil in den USA beträgt inzwischen 20%», sagt Michael Wiener.
«Wir stehen kurz vor der Skalierung», sagt Michael Wiener. Man habe alle Voraussetzungen, die sich ein Investor wünsche und es bestehe sogar schon ein Vertrag mit dem weltweit grössten Distributor auf diesem Markt. «Doch in der Schweiz ist es selbst für vielversprechende Jungunternehmen schwierig geworden. Die Risikofreudigkeit von Investoren ist im Vergleich zu den USA eher niedrig», sagt Michael Wiener. Doch er ist zuversichtlich, dass sich noch ein Investor findet.