A team of Imperial students are hoping to make avoidable blindness a thing of the past with a revolutionary imaging tool.
Meet the team
Ben Lakey, CEO (MRes Medical Device Design and Entrepreneurship 2018)
Irene Mendez Guerra, CTO (PhD Bioengineering 2021)
Patrick Sagastegui Alva, Electrical Engineer (MRes Bioengineering 2018)
Current prostheses are heavy, require extensive training for effective use and provide limited functionality. This has resulted in over 40% of upper limb prosthetic users abandoning their devices, meaning that a large number of amputees and individuals with congenital limb defects are in need of technology that is practical, functional and allows users to carry out their daily activities.
Our myoelectric prosthesis controller aims to increase the acceptance, usage and functionality of current prostheses by:
1) eliminating the long training sessions required to tailor the system to the user
2) improving the functionality of current control
Our universal interface mimics the natural control of a healthy limb, providing an intuitive means to simultaneously perform and modulate multiple movements. This highly functional controller is based on optimal neural control strategies that are common to all users and thus, do not require training.
Irene and Ben met in Professor Dario Farina’s Neuromechanics and Rehabilitation Technology group, where they both completed their Masters. Ben was investigating the clinical evaluation and steps to commercialisation of a prosthetics controller and Irene was researching the technical restraints and feasibility of exisiting myocontrol innovations.
Naviga has hired on an additional Imperial graduate with extensive electrical engineering experience to embed the system. At the end of this stage, the device will be operating independently on a chip that can be attached to prosthetics directly. This system will be tested with users who have limb differences this summer with the aim to be ready to showcase in Autumn to potential licensing partners.
Advisors and mentors
Irene’s and Ben’s supervisors on their Masters course, Ivan Vulakija and Dario Farina, advise Naviga on clinical evaluation and technical advancements, respectivally. Ivan is now serving as Assistant Professor in Electrical Engineering at Aalto University and Dario is Chair of Neurorehabilition at Imperial College.
Enterprise Lab support
Naviga (formerly Revive Controls) participated in the Programm/able Competition in 2018. This was the first exposure we had to the terrific pitch training and business coaching offered by the Enterprise Lab. Unfortunately, Revive Controls did not win any support in that competition, but the team was determined to stay in contact with the Enterprise Lab and make the most of their resources.
Revive Controls was rebranded as Naviga and we applied to the Venture Catalyst Challenge (VCC) 2019 with the hope of securing coaching and funding to progress the technology from the stagnant position it had come to after both founders completed their Masters.
The VCC provided a platform for us to meet amazing investors, entrepreneurs and mentors. Naviga was extremely fortunate to win the AI and Robotics track and secure £10,000 in funding that has been absolutely crucial to progressing the technology to a trial stage and beyond. Irene was coached brilliantly for her presentation at the VCC Finals to a distinguished audience of classmates, scientists and investors.
Without the Enterprise Lab, Naviga would not exist today. The funding and coaching has been instrumental in making sure this technology did not get left in the depths of laboratory. With their support, we will continue to develop with the vision of one day providing a technology to enhance people’s lives.
Successes and setbacks
We’ve had a few successes but probably the most important have been filing the GB patent in July 2018 and winning the 2019 VCC AI and Robotics track. Receiving great feedback when we trialled the device with 3 users in August 2018 was another major success for us.
In terms of setbacks I think failing to win any support at Programm/able 2018 was a difficult time and also receiving the news that a multinational prosthetics company had decided not to license the technology after months of negotiation. Nor receiving sign-off from the technology transfer team on our Business Plan and team for Founder Choice spin-out was also a setback for us.
Advice to aspiring entrepreneurs
Getting the support from your academic institution to patent, showcase and spin-out your technology can be very challenging. Be persistent, but respectful, and don’t take ignored emails or cancelled meetings as the death of your technology. If the technology isn’t “a hot area” in the technology transfer team, gather interest from advisors, companies, and anyone else that knows the area to demonstrate the value of your technology and company. Be confident in your abilities as an entrepreneur to take the innovation forward. You will have other people tell you that you need them because you lack certain experience or traits, but there is nothing you can’t learn from someone in the Enterprise Lab or their network in order to develop the entrepreneurial skills to start a company.