Mobility Designed M+D Crutch from max on Vimeo.
Liliana and Max Younger, a wife-husband industrial designing duo, always had a dream to own their own business. In working to solve a problem for Max’s father, they created an innovative crutch and launched a company with real growth potential.
Because of multiple knee surgeries and an eventual amputation, Max’s dad has been on crutches for most of his life. Max and Liliana knew they could design a better solution—a crutch that allows for more comfort and mobility.
About 10 million crutches are sold each year. Yet, there has not been a new design of this medical device for years. Most R&D focuses on high-tech prosthetics. Because of Max’s father’s experience, Max and Liliana recognized a gap in the market—many people use crutches full-time for a variety of conditions. No one had designed a crutch that took the pressure off the wrists, hands and armpits.
For eight years, Max and Liliana designed various prototypes while working full-time jobs. About 18 months ago, the two recognized that their crutch design could be revolutionary.
Yet, having a great idea or design is not enough. Entrepreneurs must have the savvy to get it off the ground. As industrial designers with a willing and eager focus group of one, Max and Liliana knew they had designed a better crutch, but they didn’t know how to get their design to market.
Enter the UMKC E-Scholars and Whiteboard2Boardroom. While Max worked on designs—he’s the chief innovation officer of Mobility Design—Liliana took on the role of CEO, learning everything she could about taking their product to market. These two Kansas City programs connected Mobility Designed with the mentors and expertise to commercialize their design into a marketable product.
The Entrepreneurship Scholars (E-Scholars) Program at UMKC is a community-wide program designed to prepare entrepreneurs with the skills and knowledge needed to launch world-class ventures upon graduation. The mission of the program is to accelerate the formation of scalable, sustainable ventures.
During their year with E-Scholars, they were introduced to their mentor, Michael Litscher, co-founder, president and COO of KC Biomedix. He offered a wealth of experience in commercializing medical devices and has continued to be instrumental in helping the Youngers develop a five-year business plan, financing strategy and timeline for new product development.
They also met Jim Baxendale of Whiteboard2Boardroom. He also gave them advice on business planning and financials, but even more strategically introduced them to what turned into additional focus groups and what could be a source for their first customers: the Veterans Administration and the KU Medical Center.
Whiteboard2Boardroom (W2B) connects entrepreneurs and established businesses to technologies at institutions of higher education in the bi-state region to stimulate applied research, leverage innovation in the marketplace and accelerate the commercialization of technology. The W2B has become a clearinghouse for regional commercialization information that is available to innovators and companies alike to advance technologies to the marketplace.
“I never had allowed myself to take the leap of faith. I was the planner, the one holding us back,” Liliana said. “Going through the E-Scholars program gave me the confidence and tool kit I needed to build this company as its CEO full-time.”
Soon after E-Scholars, Liliana would get even more confidence in their idea and its commercial potential. They entered Mobility Designed into the 2015 Regnier Venture Creation Challenge and took first place and the pitch competition—a total of $15,500 in cash prizes. They followed that momentum with funding from Missouri Technology Corporation’s IDEA funds. A matching investment from their family will double the funds available for startup.
Mobility Designed LLC also was accepted into the Digital Sandbox program in summer 2015 and is a finalist for one of 10 $50,000 Launch KC grants. Both programs provide depth of network resources to help entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses.
With all of this investment and energy, Mobility Designed LLC will bring the new crutch design to market in the first quarter of 2016. The five-year business plan includes additional new devices that Max designed and will be available in the next three to five years.
“I’m so glad that we launched into the process to start the business ourselves, rather than hire a CEO to do it,” Liliana said. “We’ve learned that designing the product is only one small part of the endeavor. It’s really about designing the entire business and the organization we want to create.”
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