4th December 2023
Mebster, the winner of 2023 Attract To Invest Programme is a Czech company developing UNILEXA 2.0, an innovative passive exoskeleton platform, to empower those with partial or complete lower limb impairments, particularly from spinal cord injuries, to walk again. As an affordable, lightweight, and stable alternative, the platform bridges the market gap between traditional orthotics and costly active exoskeletons, with a smart and compact design catering to both users and therapists. The included mobile app aids physiotherapists in tracking and evaluating patient progress. In the interview for EU-Startups, Mike Gloger, its CEO & founder, shares insights into their solution, outlines their plans and discusses the pivotal role that EIT Health has played in facilitating MEBSTER’s transition from laboratory research to commercial market presence.
Can you describe what challenges in the healthcare sector are you aiming to address? and how the idea first came about.
We aim to address critical challenges in the healthcare sector, including the urgent shortage of caregivers and the complexity of care related to spinal cord injury. Currently, inadequate information and a shortage of medical personnel result in inconsistent care and unnecessarily prolonged immobilization, leading to the rapid development of secondary health issues.
Additionally, we recognize the need for affordable home-use solutions, as existing options are either mundane orthotics or costly high-tech exoskeletons not covered by insurance. Our focus is on providing accessible solutions that enhance patient care and rehabilitation from the first day after the injury through the rehabilitation process in healthcare providers’ centres to home care and active, independent exercise.
Can you describe the technology behind your passive exoskeleton and how the process of prototyping was until it evolved into a viable product?
The UNILEXA 2.0 product family includes two versions: UNILEXA Prime 2.0, an adjustable medical device for various medical care settings, and UNILEXA Home 2.0, a bespoke device for intensive daily home use. The PRIME version uses embedded sensory subsystems to provide biomechanical data, which is visualized through our MEBSTER mobile application, aiding users and professionals in monitoring progress.
Our patient-centred approach involves designing devices directly with users, ensuring that our research effectively addresses their needs. By working closely with end-users, we gain a deeper understanding of their requirements and challenges, helping us create assistive technologies tailored to their needs. This collaboration also enables us to identify areas for improvement and continuously refine our products.
What were some of the biggest challenges in the research and development phase for your passive exoskeleton?
The development of assistive technologies and the ability to introduce fully adjustable devices to medical care centres and customized systems for home use by individuals encounter challenges in legal certifications, market competition, user acceptance, and financial investment, for instance. To address legal barriers, we’ve obtained the CE mark, committing to ongoing compliance through connections with research centres. Market challenges are tackled by enhancing our presence through product innovation. Ensuring user trust involves a patient-centred approach, feedback integration, and endorsements from healthcare professionals. Financial barriers were met with proactive efforts, seeking grants, partnerships, and investors to fund research, development, and commercialization. With confidence, we aim to bring innovative assistive technologies to the market, positively impacting individuals with mobility challenges.
What has been the feedback from users who have tried your exoskeleton?
Our products serve a specific niche of users and still require them to have some strength in the upper limbs to be able to verticalize using our exoskeleton and then walk. Because of this, it is not suitable for every person after a spinal cord injury. For those who can support themselves with a walker or parallel bars while using our device, we have received very positive feedback. In fact, individuals who have already acquired their UNILEXA Home have highlighted the benefits for their overall health. Users appreciate the compact build, ease of use, and stability during walking.
Besides the financial cost, what are other benefits for users choosing this technology and not a similar one?
The key advantage of our exoskeleton, UNILEXA 2.0, is that it fulfils the crucial needs of the users. It enables a simple transfer from the wheelchair and donning of the exoskeleton without assistance, allowing the user to use the device independently after proper walking training. It represents a paradigm shift, as immobile clients can exercise at home, rather than needing to visit health centers for each rehabilitation session. Due to its low weight and compactness, the exoskeleton can be folded into a box and carried wherever necessary, enhancing mobility. It is also beneficial for rehabilitation centres, as it optimizes the time for the training sessions, and the modularity of our solution adds a layer of versatility not often found in technologies in this field.
Another unique aspect of our approach is the integration of a mobile application to monitor the usage of our technology. The app evaluates the correct usage of the device and the level of strain on the user’s upper limbs. This feature not only aids users in their rehabilitation journey but also facilitates a community where users can seek consultation and share their experiences. Moreover, the version of the app for users allows a personalized goal-setting feature that motivates them to keep up with their training, fostering healthy habits.
Are there any upcoming technological advancements that MEBSTER is exploring to enhance or complement the exoskeleton?
The upcoming UNILEXA 2.1 version builds upon the success of its predecessor, UNILEXA 2.0, by incorporating innovative features that enhance performance and user experience. Key improvements in UNILEXA 2.1 include innovative flexible knee joints for easier verticalization and improved user comfort. These enhancements contribute to the overall efficiency and safety of the exoskeleton during rehabilitation exercises. Additionally, the new version features an upgraded mobile platform that not only tracks user progress and goals but also offers additional modules, such as connection with physiotherapists and customized rehabilitation plans.
As technology evolves, how does MEBSTER foresee integrating emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence into the UNILEXA 2.0 ecosystem for an even more advanced and user-centric experience?
We are at the forefront of exploring the integration of emerging technologies into our ecosystem. We see tremendous potential in leveraging artificial intelligence (a hot topic right now) to provide real-time adaptive support, further personalizing the user experience. These advancements align with our vision of continually enhancing the UNILEXA 2.0 system to meet evolving user needs and technological possibilities.
How did MEBSTER approach the challenge of funding, and what sources did you initially turn to? Did you face any particular challenges in this area?
Funding challenges were addressed through a strategic blend of private investments, research grants, Czech and European grants, and participation in pitch competitions like Attract to Invest. Collaborating with organizations such as EIT Health provided invaluable support and networking opportunities, assisting in overcoming initial financial hurdles.
You recently won the Attract to Invest pitch competition. How did being a part of EIT Health support your journey from the lab to the market?
In winning the Attract to Invest pitch competition, we are delighted to bring this international award home to the Czech Republic, alongside our other national and local honours. It is a well-deserved recognition for our incredible team, and it serves as motivation to continue pursuing our goals.
Being part of EIT Health supported our journey. It provided access to mentorship, networking, and funding opportunities through competitions like Attract to Invest. EIT Health’s ecosystem facilitated valuable connections with industry experts and investors. Besides, we have invested many grant resources in scaling our business. And this prize award will be well invested in taking our business to the next level.
What are your plans for expanding the availability of your exoskeleton in other markets?
Our plans involve expanding the availability of UNILEXA 2.0 to broader markets across Europe and beyond. Collaborations with international distributors and strategic partnerships with healthcare providers are underway to ensure that our mobile platform with exoskeleton option reaches those in need globally. Currently, we already sell in the United Arab Emirates and are potentially expanding to other Middle East markets. As I write this, I am travelling to Brazil and the USA to accelerate our incorporation and expansion into such big and important markets.
Taking from your experience, What advice would you give to tech entrepreneurs aspiring to innovate in the health sector?
Emphasize a patient-centered approach, involving end-users and healthcare professionals from the inception. Seek diverse funding sources, leverage supportive networks like EIT Health, and continuously iterate based on user feedback. Innovate responsibly, keeping both technological advancements and user well-being at the forefront of your mission. And, most importantly, the team. The team is the key to successful entrepreneurship.
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