Giving Parkinson’s patients a steady hand
For most of us, carrying out routine tasks in our day-to-day lives may seem simple and effortless. Like having lunch and bringing a spoon from our bowl to our mouth. Or inserting a key into the keyhole of our front door. Yet, that isn’t the case for 45 million people worldwide, suffering from Essential Tremor or Parkinson’s Disease. For them, every attempt to do so is accompanied by the largely uncontrollable shaking of their hand, also known as tremors.
It is a problem that still needs an effective solution. Current treatments to suppress tremor are ineffective and have heavy side effects, causing patients to even reject treatment and live with the consequences.
STIL, a medtech startup co-founded by IJsbrand de Lange and Bastiaan van Gaalen, is looking to be that solution. The team is developing an anti-tremor brace that helps provide these patients with a steady hand by suppressing their involuntary shakes. The startup emerged as the winner of last year’s EIT Health Validation Lab (formerly LaunchLab), and as a result, has made strides in bringing its technology closer to the market.
The Validation Lab is a partnership between YES!Delft and EIT Health that combines YES!Delft’s startup expertise with the extensive knowledge and network of EIT Health.
“As one of the top global business incubators, YES!Delft has developed a very strong entrepreneurship program for early stage entrepreneurs,” says Kurt Höller, Director of Business Creation at EIT Health. “For a second year in a row, this program opens for all European startups and is enriched by a European field trip to global players and excellent university hospitals among our EIT Health partners. There is no better way to find out if your business idea works.”
The program is specifically designed to help promising tech teams find their product-market fit, or rather their market-product fit, as Robert Jan van Vugt, Program Manager at YES!Delft, puts it.
The road to ‘creating a stable future’
For IJsbrand, the idea for STIL came about two years ago during his graduation project at the TU Delft, where he was researching new ways of suppressing tremors mechanically.
“I drew inspiration from noise cancelation technology, where two opposite sound waves cancel each other out and result in silence,” IJsbrand says. “My idea was to apply the same concept to mechanical vibrations, and use an ‘anti-vibration’ to counteract the tremor and such suppress it.”
He soon realized that his invention had quite some potential, as a lab test of the technology showed a 94% success rate in suppressing tremors.
It was an innovative concept that had to be brought to the market. IJsbrand applied for a Take-Off grant from the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Reseach (NWO) – and got it! – which allowed him to found STIL together with Bastiaan and work towards market validation.
Getting accepted in the EIT Health Validation Lab turned out to be a boost in the startup’s development, as during the two-month program, the founders got to discover the business potential of their idea, helped by top-notch universities, leading healthcare companies and world-class hospitals across Europe.
They also learned that agility is key to running a startup. What the founders didn’t know at the beginning was that developing that specific medtech product would take years (and millions of euros) in clinical validation, putting market entry on hold for a while.
“There are currently no adequate treatments to suppress tremor,” IJsbrand says, “and patients need better options. They need them now.”
There was only one way forward: The founders had to rethink their business strategy, and they did so without having to give up on their ultimate goal.
They decided that in the short run, STIL will introduce their brace as a wellness device, selling it directly to customers and improving the technology based on the feedback they receive. In the long run, they will continue doing research and clinical validation until their product is fully ready to enter the medical market in Europe and the US.
IJsbrand and Bastiaan have learned that entrepreneurship can take you on a long and winding road, yet, what matters is to stay focused on your end goal. At the end of the day, it is people’s lives that can change for the better, and the two founders are working hard to make that happen.