Family-owned Woodinville company IOPI Medical has received the President’s “E” Award for making significant contributions to the expansion of U.S. exports, according to an announcement by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross on Oct. 22.

IOPI, which stands for Iowa Oral Performance Instrument, was invented by Dr. Erich Luschei when he was a professor and neurophysiologist in the Department of Speech Pathology at the University of Iowa in 1992. Luschei and his wife founded the company in 2001. 

Now, their daughter Tara Hart runs the family business as CEO and president. Hart, who earned her PhD from the Department of Public Health at the University of Washington, said she is motivated to improve the quality of life for people by helping them to eat and drink longer.

“We connect with people by breaking bread with them,” Hart said. “If you can’t participate in that action, you miss out on that connection.” 

According to Hart, the IOPI can measure tongue strength and endurance by determining the maximum pressure an individual can produce when pressing an air-filled balloon against the roof of the mouth with the tongue. Hart said the device uses biofeedback to arrange appropriate resistance exercises in order to build tongue strength over time. 

“The tongue is a muscle and you can strengthen it just like you can strengthen any muscle,” she said. “Before this [device], people would just press against a tongue depressor for resistance.” 

A news release from the company said the device is used by a variety of patients with differing diseases, such as stroke, head and neck cancer, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, ALS and others. 

Hart said the product was primarily intended for post-stroke rehabilitation, although now the company is looking at potential applications for the elderly and those with sarcopenic dysphasia. People lose muscle as they age, she noted, which can lead to problems with swallowing and malnutrition. 

When she first took over the company, Hart said, she wanted to take the device global and improve the quality of life in other countries as well. The company currently exports the IOPI product to 42 countries with intentions to reach more, she added. 

“Our commitment to quality is exceptional; from product development to distributor management, quality is at the core of everything we do,” Hart said. “For our years of hard work and commitment, to be honored with the President’s “E” Award is truly a privilege.”

In his congratulatory letter to the company, Ross said IOPI Medical has “demonstrated a sustained commitment to export expansion.” He also praised the company on its investment certification in order to gain entry into more international markets. 

“IOPI Medical’s achievements have undoubtedly contributed to national  export expansion efforts that support the U.S. economy and create American jobs,” Ross said in the letter.

Ross honored 39 U.S companies and organizations from across the country with the President’s “E” Award for their role in strengthening the U.S. economy through exports. 

In 1961, President Kennedy signed an executive order reviving the World War II “E” symbol of excellence to honor and provide recognition to America’s exporters. Criteria for the award is based on four years of successive export growth in one or more international markets, according to the news release.

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