Medtech is one of the most promising and attractive segments for startup investment. In response to the medical demands created by the pandemic, medtech has become one of the world’s top technological trends. According to analysts from Allied Market Research, this trend will continue at least until 2030. Market size will increase 5 times and reach $750 billion by then. Ukrainian entrepreneurs have also been drawn into this development of medical technologies. One of the most impressive and successful Ukrainian innovations is the orthopedic startup ComeBack Mobility, whose history began with an injury. Its founder, Ilya Popov, told our readers about this project.
Location: Dnipro (Ukraine), New York (USA)
Year founded: 2020
Pain in numbers
It turns out that orthopedic injuries are more common and dangerous than they seem. Adults are most often injured at home, followed by outside activities and sports injuries. Children are most often injured outside the home while playing. Their most common injuries are scrapes and wounds from falling, followed by dislocations and fractures of arms and legs. The top five is completed by craniocerebral injuries.
For several years, injuries and poisonings have been the third leading cause of death among Kyiv residents. According to the WHO, about 2 million people die each year from musculoskeletal injuries. Approximately 30 million are injured to varying degrees.
«In Ukraine, 181,800 people receive injuries to the lower extremities every year. There is still no modern practical way to control individualized gait rehabilitation assistive device parameters for patients. Our product monitors the injury recovery phase and weight-bearing distribution on the injured limb.»Says Ilya Popov, founder of the startup ComeBack Mobility.
Bone injuries significantly and permanently impair the quality of life and negatively affect income levels. The problem is complicated because improper weight bearing on the injured limbs can cause significant side effects and prolong the rehabilitation period. To make treatment more effective, efficient, and as fast as possible, Ilya Popov and his associates have developed an exciting technology now being offered to prospective users.
ComeBack Mobility: what is it, and how does it work?
Everything was decided by chance. A while back, Ilya broke a radius bone during a boxing match in Thailand. The process of treatment and rehabilitation was complicated and lengthy. This prompted Ilya to create a technology that could speed the recovery process. This is how work on the startup ComeBack Mobility began. Later, Dmitry Savienkov and Sergey Berezhny became co-founders.
The team conducted a thorough study to create a product that will be truly valuable to patients and physicians. The founders started an open dialogue with orthopedists and rehabilitation specialists from Ukraine, Russia, Germany, Japan and the USA. At first, Ilya wanted to create a technology for treating injuries of the upper extremities, however, it turned out that the necessary devices are already widely available in the American market. During the conversations with doctors, it became clear that there is an urgent need for technology to control axial load in injuries of the lower limbs. There were two significant problems in this space. Many patients are afraid to step on an injured leg. This causes muscle atrophy and poor blood circulation, which slows recovery. Other patients overload the affected limb, and as a result, it takes longer to heal. Therefore, the urgent task was to develop a device that would help the patient follow the doctor’s recommendations regarding weight-bearing.
Initially, the ComeBack Mobility product was supposed to be insoles. Still, a more convenient and accurate device for measuring and correcting loads were crutch tips with sensors. To start working with the smart crutch tip device, you need to install the corresponding application on your smartphone and specify your weight in it. Crutch sensors will send information to the application about the weight the patient places on the injured leg and the number of steps. These real-time data points are also available to the physician. This way, the physician can promptly monitor and correct the patient’s actions. Research has shown that people overload their injured leg twice as often as prescribed by the doctor.
In 2021, the startup received a $1 million investment from Farmak, Ukrainian venture fund Fison, Kyivstar ex-president Petro Chernyshov, the Ukrainian diaspora in Chicago, and many anonymous angel investors. Members of the Comeback Mobility team have also invested a total of $254K.
Dozens of Ukrainian clinics are already using the ComeBack Mobility product. The startup signed agreements with networks of private clinics, such as Dobrobut, ADONIS, and MEDIBOR. However, the startup does not expect a rapid rise of sales in Ukraine for several reasons. The problem is that due to economic instability, the country still has low solvency. In addition, the use of digital technology is not as common as in the West. Another obstacle is the underdeveloped field of medical rehabilitation.
The startup is currently expanding in the US market and the trial runs are scheduled in the first quarter of 2022. «We can become the standard in orthopedics,» says Ilya Popov. This optimism is based on a recent partnership with the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York. Clinical trials are planned for this year, funded by HSS. In addition, the startup is testing its technology with several networks of American physiotherapy clinics, which have hundreds of branches throughout the US.
As the US market is a priority for Ilya and his colleagues, the company registered in the United States. Patents for ComeBack Mobility technology were also issued there. The device is certified by the FDA, allows doctors to remotely monitor the patient’s activity, and can be reimbursed via medical insurance starting from January 1, 2022.
Ukrainian startups: how they succeed?
«The first external funding dollar should be spent not on marketing, not on business development, but on testing product hypotheses,» advises Ilya Popov.
Popov says that most startup founders are afraid to check the most important thing – whether people want to pay for their product. Often, new founders think they need to have a finished product to check their hypothesis. Ilya claims that it is enough to have a visual representation and a product description to judge the target audience’s reaction.
«The problem is that people are afraid to do what is important and then end up doing a lot of things that are not important,» Popov concludes. «I strongly advise people to decide when to draw a line and shut down their projects. Are you ready to spend 3, 5, 7 years risking that the product will not sell or that customers refuse to use it? To avoid wasting time, you should check these risks as soon as possible. This will make it easier and easier for the team and investors to work with your startup.»
Ilya considers the competence of employees to be another significant risk, which cannot always be verified. To avoid jeopardizing the startup’s future, the entrepreneur advises discussing with colleagues your expectations for each other and actions if these expectations are not met. Ilya also recommends that startups conduct their affairs transparently and not hide information from employees and partners, even if the news does not always please them. Transparency inspires trust, which strengthens the team better than any corporate party.
Each startup makes mistakes. The Comeback founder admits making lots of them during his career but does not regret making them. One should not be afraid to make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them, shares the startup founder. The lessons drive progress and enable new original solutions.