In 2009, Christopher Hutchison went through an accident that left him with two amputated legs. This, however, led him and his father Alan Hutchison, engineer and entrepreneur, to a venture that has the potential to break the rules of the global prosthetics industry and to help 20M amputees live a more comfortable life.
ProsFit Technologies is a software company that allows fast and cost-effective production of prosthetics sockets. Since its start in Sofia in 2013, the venture has attracted $3M of investments and partners across industries like HP Inc. for instance. The startup has now found a way to turn the industry upside down by launching a new global franchise business line.
21st-century cars on 19th-century tires
After Christopher recovered, he and his father started visiting clinics to fit him with prostheses. It took them weeks to get the first one. “I was working with an Oxford professor back in 1981 on a knee implant that became known as the Oxford knee. We were using computer technologies to do that. So it was a surprise to me that 30 years later no one was using computer technologies to fit prosthetics”, says Alan Hutchison.
The conventional way of creating and fitting prosthetic sockets, which is the most difficult part of the prosthesis, is a long and uncomfortable process for the patients. The sockets are handcrafted in clinics by prosthetists and being fitted and tested several times before the definitive one is ready. Then the mechanical or bionic part (which is industrially produced) is assembled. It may take weeks for the socket to be produced. “The situation with prosthetics today is: it’s like driving 21st-century cars on 19th-century tires. The sockets have not stayed up to date. We are already talking about bionics and brain control of the prosthesis. In fact, we wouldn’t need to use so much technology to compensate, if the sockets fitted better”, the engineer explains.
So ProsFit has developed a software product called PandoFit. With their solution, the process is significantly easier for the end user and more accurate – the limb gets scanned, the prosthetist uses PandoFit software to create a model of the socket and sends the file for 3D printing.
Christopher was fitted in 2014 and another 180 amputees since then. What used to take weeks, now takes several days and the limb wearer receives a custom-made medical device, regulated in the EU for weight bearing up to 125 kg.
The Apple of the Prosthetics
“We wanted to have a product everyone likes and is proud to wear – to be the Apple of the industry”, explains Alan Hutchison. In the beginning, the company was using conventional fusion deposition 3D printers extruding using a filament, but they were looking for ways to improve the quality, weight and surface of the sockets. “When we heard that HP is developing a new type of multi-jet fusion 3D printing technology using fused powder to produce strong consistent parts, we knew we needed to work with them”, the co-founder recalls.
So they found a way and ProsFit is now partnering with HP since 2018 to create a lighter and smoother socket called ProsFit Optimal. This collaboration also helps ProsFit to set up manufacturing sites all over the world.
ProsFit sells monthly subscriptions for its software to prosthetic clinics and delivers the ready 3D manufactured medical devices – an easily scalable model. According to the co-founder, it is addressing a global market estimated at 10M amputees in the developed economies, and twice as many in the developing and emerging ones. It is estimated to grow to 100M by 2050 (due to diseases). “We are targeting up to 10% market share”, Alan Hutchison explains. For the team of ten people, 2019 started with two significant contracts – the biggest hospital in Singapore and the French Military rehabilitation center. The Company has contracts to fit amputees in conflict zones in the Middle East also.
Since 2013, ProsFit has attracted €3M and the ongoing support of a pool of prominent institutional and angel investors – from local fund LAUNCHub, two former Accenture partners, a Swiss industrial family, a Senior Vice President at Oracle, the Chairman of the largest bank in Australia.
Breaking the vicious circle
The future seems bright for the young company. But there’s one detail. The market which the company approaches is a highly consolidated as there are only a few large component producers holding the major share, and according to Hutchison, they have no incentive to give the end customer more control over where to purchase their sockets. “The minute the socket becomes a component and people could buy it anywhere, then they could also buy the other elements elsewhere. This unties the end-customer from the clinics that are operated and supplied by the major component players”, he explains.
ProsFit’s challenge is to break that circle. So the Hutchisons came up with another idea – an additional business line – PandoPoint, a franchise for modular clinic solutions for design and print of prosthetic sockets. If this model proves to be successful, this might democratize the whole industry, Alan Hutchison believes. “It’s similar to what happened in the eyewear industry once the modern eye examination equipment came in – now you get examined in the optician’s retail outlet and get the glasses from there, sometimes even on the same day”, Hutchison smiles. In 2019, ProsFit will further develop this line and work on closing the planned next funding round by the end of the year.