Superhero movie inspires Oxford man to enter medical robotics

June 19, 2018 16:38
Having developed a passion for robots, MedEXO Robotics founder and CEO Denis Huen decided to focus on the application of robotics to medical care. Huen is shown here wearing his startup's product ExoSteady. Photo: MedEXO Robotics

Iron Man, the blockbuster Hollywood superhero movie, was what prompted a doctoral candidate in biomedical engineering from the University of Oxford to venture into robotics and the startup world.

“I find it very cool to see the invention of medical robotics in an Iron Man movie,” Denis Huen, founder and CEO of MedEXO Robotics, told EJ Insight in an interview.

Having developed a passion for robots, Huen decided to focus on the application of robotics to medical care. This could be traced to his growing concern about the deteriorating health of his friends’ family members and the issue of population ageing.

In 2015, Huen founded a company to produce wearable robotic devices for healthcare.

One of the startup's products is ExoSteady, a robotic glove to help those with hand tremors, such as those suffering from Parkinson’s disease. It is also intended for those experiencing stiff hands and lack of strength in the fingers and waist.

The glove, expected to be launched this year, can help users to keep their hands more steady and enable them to have better control of their hands and fingers.

Another product targeted to be launched this year is called WalkAid, which offers help to those with walking ailments, such as freezing of gait, or the inability of the feet to move forward despite the intention to walk, another common symptom in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Hard early days

Huen said the lack of capital was the toughest hurdle in running the startup.

“If the company cannot afford to pay salaries, how can you expect all the team members to continue working full-time?" he said.

Indeed, the company got off to a shaky start as Huen tried to stretch the budget to cover prototype development, rent and building management fees, among other expenses.

“I didn’t even take my own wages into consideration," he said.

“The biggest challenge is whether the whole team can get through [the harsh early days] or whether the startup can obtain enough funding to sustain day-to-day operation.”

But it started changing for the better when his company became one of the top three finalists in the Elevator World Tour Hong Kong of the APAC Innovation Summit 2016, a competition organized by Startupfest and Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation.

Apart from the financial rewards of joining such contests, MedEXO Robotics obtained valuable media exposure which made it easier for the startup to attract investors.

Hong Kong is one of MedEXO's targeted markets, Huen said, adding that it is also looking at markets in South Asia, Europe and the United States.

MedEXO intends to market its products directly to families with elderly members. It is also planning to target nursing homes.

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WalkAid is one of the products of MedEXO Robotics. Photo: MedEXO Robotics
Huen explains the functions and features of the robotic glove his company has developed. Photo: MedEXO Robotics
The waking aid and robotic glove will be launched this year. Photo: MedEXO Robotics

EJ Insight writer