Argo Medical Technologies, founded by entrepreneur Dr. Amit Goffer, was selected by "Globes" as one of the most promising startups in 2013. The company soon changed its name to ReWalk Robotics Ltd.(Nasdaq:RWLK) and held its IPO on Nasdaq. As indicated by the company's name, it enables people to walk again using an "exoskeleton" that helps people with spinal cord injuries to stand up and walk. As part of the roadshow, the investors and analysts met disabled people who walked into the room. Some of the investors were stunned, and thought the people who walked in were only pretending to be disabled.
ReWalk is a heartwarming story with a heartwarming twist. Goffer himself is paralyzed, but the invention he developed is of no use to him personally, because his hands are partially paralyzed, and ReWalk's product can only be used by someone who is paralyzed from the waist down.
Following ReWalk's successful IPO, market expectations drove its shares skyward, but the company's actual sales were lower than the forecasts. The company lost half of its IPO value, and its current market cap is $36 million. Although ReWalk's product is capable of transforming the lives of people with paralysis, the company has not managed to obtain enough insurance reimbursement for it, and has also encountered other problems. The product required too great an effort from the users, and was not smoothly integrated in the patients' daily lives. Nevertheless, using the device an hour or two a day improves health significantly, and the product therefore still has great potential.
Goffer decided not to wait for ReWalk. Two and a half years ago, he left the company (selling his holdings in it for a large sum), and founded UpnRIDE Robotics, a startup developing the next generation of devices enabling people with paralysis to stand. If all goes well, even Goffer will be able to use the new product.
Speaking to "Globes," Goffer talked about parting from ReWalk and his new venture. "As I see it, to this day, ReWalk's solution is the ultimate solution for people with lower body paralysis, until medicine learns how to reconnect the spinal column," he says. "At the same time, this product is suitable for only 10% of the global wheelchair population. People with paralysis in their hands and people in wheelchairs for other reasons, such as various types of muscular dystrophy, can't use this solution.
"There are now standing chairs in the market. These wheelchairs keep the patient erect, and move him in that position." ReWalk's product is built differently - it moves the patient's legs and has no wheels. UPnRIDE's product, however, which is designed to be the next generation, is a big improvement on standing chairs.
"I myself didn't buy such a standing chair, because I can't leave the house with it," Goffer explains. "It's not stable. It's all right in the office or at home, but if the solution isn't systematic, it's not worthwhile. Another problem is that when people rise with this product, they can't sit back down in exactly the same place. Getting up and sitting back down comfortably with it is impossible."
The UPnRIDE device is designed to always leave a person in the center of the device, thereby enabling him to leave home with it. "If you saw me traveling with our product, you'd say, 'Here's a competitor for Segway,' but Segway isn't as safe," Goffer says. When a user leans in a certain direction, the device moves, while leaving the person in the middle. "Even when the device goes uphill or at a slant, the device is able to position the person so that he remains vertical. That's very important, especially for side slopes in countries in which the sidewalk has a steep slope, such as snowy countries where they deliberately build the sidewalk at a slant. Even on a sidewalk like that, the person in the center of the device stands up straight.
"I displayed the device for the first time in 2015. I was at a conference, and I moved around between the cocktail tables, drank my coffee standing up, and then we all ate lunch standing up. It was a great feeling, and so different. I felt strange, but I trusted the device. I have a product at home, and I use it to stand up, because it's important for my health, but it forces me to hold onto something in front of me. Here, I simply stand up with nothing before me."
"Globes": In ReWalk's device, it was important for you for the device to really make the paralyzed patient march. This product rolls.
Goffer: "Striding is healthier, but it's not possible for everyone. Even without walking, standing up straight has a great many health advantages, and any additional standing up in daily life provides a lot of value in comparison with only practicing standing up at home."
What will enable this product to succeed where ReWalk has so far failed?
"The market for this product is huge. ReWalk serves only 10% of the market. We don't serve all of the other 90%, but we do serve a great deal of it. The price will be like that of an advanced wheelchair – $25,000-$30,000 (compared with $70,000 for ReWalk's device, G.W.). It's so pleasant, even as just a chair for traveling. You don't feel the difficult terrain.
"It's simply an improved high-end wheelchair. There already are standing wheelchairs, but they aren't so good, and they're suitable only for home, so they don't sell so well. They enable you to reach a high kitchen cupboard, and that's about it."
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on March 7, 2017
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