Technology that cares
By Renuka Sena June 6, 2016
- Visit to stroke centre triggers desire to help patients
- Winning robotic competitions helps power startup
ACCORDING to Khor Kang Xiang (pic above), chief executive officer of TechCare Innovation Sdn Bhd, every year, one out of every six Malaysians will suffer a stroke, while the number of stroke patients worldwide continues to increase as well.
Clearly, there is a pressing need for rehabilitation, to help stroke patients to regain their movement. However, conventional rehabilitation methods with physiotherapists can be labour-intensive, subjective, costly, and inconsistent.
In addition, there is a shortage of physiotherapists, and while rehabilitation robots are a good solution, the ones available today are huge, complex and expensive. To tackle the problem, Khor's company has developed a compact, portable and affordable rehabilitation robot that assists stroke patients in their healing process.
Driven by the desire to help others, TechCare is making a real difference in people's lives. But this dream team initially began as a humble student group led by their lecturer. Heading the team is the young Khor, who has a Bachelor's degree in Electrics-Mechatronics and cofounded TechCare and became its chief executive officer while in his 20s.
Serving as an advisor to TechCare is Dr Yeong Che Fai, who in addition to being a senior lecturer at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), is also an entrepreneur and heads several research and commercial projects.
Joining them as the company's chief technical officer are Patrick Chin, an experienced software programmer with a background in mechatronics; and chief financial officer Dr Eileen Su, who has a background in biomedical engineering with seven years of research experience in human performance.
The team met at UTM and formed TechCare Innovation in 2014. They named the company ‘TechCare’ as it sounds like 'take care,' as well as carries the meaning ‘technology that cares.’
Fuelled by passion
The idea for TechCare can be traced back to the day Khor paid a visit to the National Stroke Association of Malaysia (Nasam) facility in Melaka during his student days. There, he met stroke patients from all walks of life and witnessed their struggles firsthand.
Describing the day as a ‘wake up call,’ he started to think, "What I can do for them?"
His desire became more of a reality when he met Yeong, Chin and Su at UTM. Due to their backgrounds in engineering, the TechCare team felt compelled to build a ‘healthcare’ robot to help others.
Though they had limited tools and resources, passion fuelled them. "We would often work late into the night and bring the work back to our hostels," recounts Khor.
Collaborating with Nasam, they gained valuable feedback from experienced therapists on their prototype, which was tested by stroke patients in clinical trials. To fund their project, the team entered their prototype into several competitions, and with their winnings, continued to develop their robot.
With the help of laboratories, clinical trial sites and distribution partners, TechCare has been able to commercialise its rehabilitation robot and take it to market.
A dream comes to life
Following a lengthy research and development period that started in 2006 with Yeong at Imperial College London, TechCare managed to introduce a series of robotics systems called the Compact Rehabilitation Robot (CR2) in 2014. Their core product, the CR2-Haptic, can be used to train wrist movements in a virtual reality environment.
Along the R&D journey, TechCare managed to raise around RM1 million, mostly in university research grants with some money coming from winning robotics competitions. The team also developed 15 different prototypes which racked up more than 20 awards, with 19 papers published and eight filings for intellectual property – three patents, four copyrights and one trademark.
In addition to assisting stroke patients, CR2-Haptic can also help those who have suffered traumatic brain injuries or other neurological disorders resulting in hand and arm impairment.
By enabling patients to train themselves while playing games, CR2-Haptic helps make the rehabilitation process enjoyable. This motivates patients to train more frequently, which is crucial for speedy recovery, says Khor.
Besides being compact and portable, CR2-Haptic also provides multiple customisable therapy modes. As it is reconfigurable, compact and portable, it can also benefit patients who have been discharged from hospital, as they can perform rehabilitation training at home.
Aiming to become a regional leader in the design and manufacture of rehabilitation and assistive devices, TechCare is expecting to get their robot certified this year. Certification is necessary as the robots will be in touch with patients.
Ultimately, says Khor, the aim is to become a global player that provides multiple products and services in the field of rehabilitation, fitness, sport sciences and healthcare. But in achieving this dream, the biggest challenge has been to develop a robot that truly meets the needs of therapists and patients.
In addition, although a lot of effort has been put into building, testing and improvising their robot, things didn’t always happen as expected. Through it all, they have kept spirits up by remembering why they decided to do this in the first place.
This dedication and persistence has led to a string of successes. TechCare has won numerous international competitions and awards. The most memorable, says Khor, was its win at the British Invention Show 2013 in the United Kingdom. "Entering as undergraduates with very limited resources and experience, we had only aimed to get a medal," he recalls.
However, Khor's team did Malaysia proud when they won some top awards, including the World Invention Award, the Diamond Award for Commercialisation, and the Gold Medal.
As a young entrepreneur, Khor is always keen to learn and gain experience. So when he heard about the Coach and Grow Programme (CGP), he didn’t hesitate to sign up.
The CGP, he says, has been a tremendous boost, especially in helping the team understand business concepts and how to execute in practice. He is also grateful to have met experienced entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and angel investors who have provided valuable guidance during face-to-face coaching sessions.
Khor also credits the CGP for creating a big impact in TechCare's commercialisation journey, and he hopes more entrepreneurs will be able to benefit from the programme in the future.
The most important lesson
Having learned and experienced a lot in a short period of time, Khor offers sound advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, "Accept failure, as it is a most important lesson."
He cites Steve Jobs and Sir James Dyson as prime examples. Jobs was fired from the company he founded only to return later and transform it into one of the most successful companies of all time. Meanwhile, Dyson, the pioneer and inventor of the bagless vacuum, went through 5,126 failed prototypes before developing one that worked.
It’s a simple formula, says Khor. “Whatever happens, never give up!"
Discover TechCare Innovation at http://
The above is an excerpt from the book Startups to Scaleups published in October 2015 by Cradle Fund and Proficeo Consultants, the programme manager for Cradle’s Coach and Grow Programme. DNA will be featuring every entrepreneurial story from the book in a special commercial arrangement.
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