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Samer Hamadeh, Zeel Co-Founder, Looks To Alternative Medicine For A Solution

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Zeel co-founder Samer Hamadeh.
Zeel co-founder Samer Hamadeh.

This profile is part of a series featuring innovative small-business owners taking part in The Huffington Post's Entrepreneurship Expo, in Tampa and Charlotte, in conjunction with the 2012 political conventions and HuffPost's "Opportunity: What Is Working" initiative.

Faced with a second sprained rotator cuff, entrepreneur Samer Hamadeh wasn't looking forward to traditional options to fight the pain.

"The doctor tells you to take a bunch of painkillers or to have a cortisone shot, or to go ahead and do surgery," says Hamadeh, 43, of New York. "I'm not a big fan of surgery, so I said, 'What else can I do?'"

He turned to alternative medicine and found a solution: myofascial-release treatment, a combination of stretching and massage. The problem was that finding a myofascial-release specialist was intimidating and confusing.

The alternative medicine field is burgeoning. The American Hospital Association recently reported a steady increase in patient demand for complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM) -- especially as costs for traditional-medical treatments rise and Americans grappling with health-care costs look for other options. But the field is still opaque to the many considering it, and Hamadeh saw white space for an entrepreneurial opportunity.

The idea grew clearer when his wife, CBS news correspondent Alison Harmelin, tried to find a post-natal physical therapist after giving birth to the couple's second son. "She was searching the web, asking her friends," he recalls, "and wasn't really able to figure out who is good, who should I go see, what does this stuff cost, can you book it online in the middle of the night?"

So Hamadeh and Harmelin created Zeel, an online platform helping people find accredited, convenient and affordable CAM practitioners.

"The best start-ups, they come from a frustration that you have," Hamadeh says. "When there's a product or service that you so desperately want but no one's offering, you become so compelled and so pissed off that you say, 'Let's go start it.'"

Though the main site launch was in January of 2012, Hamadeh says Zeel is already proving to be an effective service for both clients and practitioners. Massage therapists, chiropractors, physical therapists and yoga instructors from Phoenix to Brooklyn have told Hamadeh that using the Zeel service has padded their appointment books with two to five extra patients per week.

"We can encourage more people to get into these professions because now there's a way to market themselves that allows them to get patients more quickly," Hamadeh says.

Though the economic benefits for the CAM profession are clear, Hamadeh argues that there is another important demographic that benefits: the employers of all the clients.

"It turns out that back pain is one of the biggest costs that employers face in terms of their employees, whether it's workers comp or just days out sick," Hamadeh says. "If we build an amazing tool that helps consumers see chiropractors and massage therapists, more easily and at the right price, in theory the number of absentee days will go down, the pain level should decrease and productivity should go up."

Hamadeh admits that his idea for Zeel wasn't the product of foresight or an exceptional talent for reading market trends. "I'm not one of those investors or entrepreneurs who can see the future and say 'Hey, I think people want that,'" he says. Rather, he simply saw an opportunity and took advantage of it.

Hamadeh's path to alternative medicine could prove instructive for an American economy struggling with traditional solutions.

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