From a dissertation project to ExpHand Prosthetics: Our company journey
Updated: Aug 23, 2021
We all know what it's like to have that 'Eureka!' moment. The heart is pounding and the palms are sweaty as we find it hard to believe that such a great idea (finally) entered our minds.
Three years ago, now ExpHand Prosthetics Founder, Kate Walker, was in a very similar situation. As a final-year Product Design Engineering student, Kate was searching for a dissertation idea with a purpose. It wasn't until she met Zoey, a little girl with congenital limb-loss, that Kate realised her potential to change lives.
“My dissertation was my chance to prove that engineering can make a true difference to someone’s life. I had thought about designing a medical device before, but it was my encounter with Zoey that made me aware of the lack of suitable prosthetic limbs for children”, says Kate.
A fresh outlook on an old issue
As Kate started researching the prosthetics market, she was shocked by the options available to children in the UK. According to her research, nearly half of children with limb differences are dissatisfied with their prostheses, which are often designed for adults.
Rather than children having to fit into the prosthesis, why can’t the prosthesis fit them? This was the initial question that set Kate on her mission to create an artificial limb that grows with its wearer.
The price was yet another obstacle in access to prosthetics that Kate aimed to solve once and for all. The cost of an upper limb device usually starts at £5,000, which few families can afford on a consistent basis.
“The fact that children grow so quickly means that they would need a new prosthesis almost every year. Aside from the financial implications, children have barely any time to get used to their prosthesis before they need a new one. So, I wanted to create a prosthetic device that becomes part of children’s lives and can grow alongside them”, revealed Kate.
The super-powers of 3D-printing
3D-printing has completely transformed prosthetic devices the way we knew them. Words such as 'stiff', 'ugly', and 'expensive' to refer to prosthetics belong to the past thanks to this revolutionary technology.
The manufacturing process allows customised artificial hands to be ready in a few days and at the fraction of the price of other devices available. Kate’s prosthetics are manufactured using PLA, a biodegradable plastic, which means her prostheses can be repurposed or recycled when they are no longer needed.
From a university project to a business
Armed with a 3D-printer and Zoey in mind, Kate had already designed the ExpHand by the end of her final year of university. Unlike previous devices, Kate's upper-limb prosthesis is affordable, adjustable, and customisable, with a life span of up to 7 years. Children aged between 3 and 10 years old can easily fit the prosthesis themselves, without needing to visit a specialist.
Kate’s project was a success among her peers and supervisors. It was also Loughborough University staff that encouraged Kate to turn her dissertation idea into a business! In the space of six weeks, ExpHand Prosthetics was established, bringing Kate closer to fulfilling her promise.
And the journey was just beginning! In 2019, Kate won the Loughborough University Undergraduate Business of the Year Award. She was also crowned Ingenuity19’s Experian Entrepreneur of the Year, and selected to participate in the EIT Healthcare Entrepreneurship Summer School, BioCity Business Accelerator Programme, and Engineers in Business Competition.
Kate reflects on her achievements: “These opportunities have taught me a lot – providing expert mentoring and invaluable networking opportunities as well as much needed funding to accelerate the business while raising the profile of ExpHand.”
From her office in The Studio, Loughborough University’s graduate start-up programme, Kate is currently on the path to launch the ExpHand prosthetic upper limb by the end of 2020. The product is currently tested by children with upper-limb differences – including Zoey, who make recommendations for final improvements.
If you'd like to test the ExpHand before it launches to the market, you can register here.
The ExpHand will initially only be available in the UK, with a worldwide distribution coming up soon after. Kate is searching for ways to expand the ExpHand product range to accommodate other types of limb differences. She is currently working on additional devices that can aid the limb different community.