Articulate Labs – an innovative start-up from Dallas, Texas, won the AiQ Smart Clothing Challenge at the 13th IOT/WT Innovation World Cup. Articulate Labs has developed wearable technology that turns the everyday activity into on-the-go physical therapy and rehabilitation through muscle stimulation and machine learning.
My co-founder, Herbie Kirn, started to develop KneeStim to help manage his own rehabilitation. He lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident over fifteen years ago and quickly wore down the cartilage in the knee of the fully intact leg as he relearned to walk. Told he was too young for knee replacement, but he was advised to go through all of the conservative options available and found braces, injections, and medications each to have unacceptable drawbacks or side effects. What did work for him was physical therapy, with an emphasis on quadriceps strengthening, but didn’t have time for all of the rehabs he needed without impacting work and family responsibilities. While at PT, he was using a neuromuscular electrical stimulation unit while doing leg lifts and started wondering why this process wasn’t more fully automated. What has resulted from quite a bit of trial-and-error in form factor and operating system development is a platform technology that we believe will address unmet knee joint rehabilitation needs for millions and later a multitude of musculoskeletal disorders and a new class of medical devices.
To date, we have completed a manufacturable/3D-printable version of our device, have earned two letters of interest from hospital systems in Texas, have two paid pilots pending in other countries, have five utility patents granted in the US plus one core patent being nationalized in key European countries. We’ve done all of the above with what’s been largely a two-person team and a (for medical devices) shoestring budget considering we’ve never earned non-dilutive grant funding for research.
I don’t have formal education in business, engineering, or medicine and didn’t feel qualified to serve in this role for a long time. My co-founder had no previous experience with biomechanics or the development of hardware or software to medical technology standards. We both have had to supplement our knowledge and experience with experts in those particular fields and have benefitted greatly from those relationships. Every start-up will be in this situation because there’s no way your initial team, no matter how big or experienced, can have all of the answers instantly. If I had to start this all over again, though, I would do a better job creating value for our advisors and consultants rather than just feeling guilty about asking for help, and I would be more respectfully critical of their work instead of accepting it without question.
The next big steps are earning regulatory clearance for our device for sale in the US and abroad, launching our validation studies, and starting to offer our devices to patients. We’re currently building out the We also want to move from what we’re considering an MVP version of our device to something that is lighter and leaner.
I felt that the WT/IoT conference was very well organized and that the sessions did a great job addressing challenges unique to the wearable industry. I came away with several relationships that I believe will benefit now with our knee-focused device and in the future as we expand to other joints and conditions. I’m certainly looking forward to participating in future WT/IoT conferences and seeing who we meet next.
Share your passion – I think part of what distinguishes our company and our work is that it started with a deeply personal unmet need that genuinely couldn’t be addressed by existing means. Our work began to resonate much more with people when we stopped being ashamed of the fact that this device was initially prototyped in an apartment living room with a makeshift machine shop next to a sofa. It’s what helps gives others the confidence that you’ll find a way to push through and solve the problems that your company will inevitably face as it grows.
Practice your presentation – A saying that’s always stuck with me is “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.” In the case of pitching, this means putting in the work – figuring out concise answers to questions, creating logical transitions from section to section, committing particular phrases to memory – so that you feel confident and relaxed talking about your company for 30 seconds or 30 minutes no matter what the circumstances.
Make relationships the goal, not the prize – We started doing better at these events when I started focusing on what we can take away from an event regardless of where we place after a three-minute presentation. In that regard, while we’re proud to have AiQ’s Smart Clothing prize, the real goal was to earn an opportunity to work on a long-term basis with Nadia, Satya, and Steven at AiQ. Their involvement and materials could really help improve both our current knee treatment device and future applications of our core technology to other rehabilitation challenges throughout the body.
Visit Articulate Labs and learn more about their KNEESTIM- a light and form-fitting device that patients can use for muscle strengthening and re-education at home while they go about their normal day-to-day activities.
Join the Smart Clothing Challenge. Submit your solution free of charge. The top selected finalists will be invited to present their solutions live at HANNOVER MESSE 2022.
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