Loughborough Alumni

Our alumni

Kate Walker

Founder: ExpHand Prosthetics

Kate graduated in Product Design Engineering in 2019 and founded ExpHand Prosthetics after meeting toddler Zoey in 2017, realising that 3D printing offered a realistic solution to creating prosthetic limbs. Here she discusses her journey so far.

Why was meeting Zoey such a decisive moment for you?

Meeting Zoey and her Mum was a revelation. Zoey was born with below elbow limb loss and – when Kate met her – had never been offered a prosthetic.

Prosthetics are important for people born missing limbs and in rehabilitation after amputation. They can improve mobility and make daily activities more manageable, helping people to lead independent lives.

So, I was shocked that millions of people who need them, are denied them. I started to look at the reasons why.

Most prosthetics are custom-made and individually fitted by a prosthetist, making them expensive and meaning they can’t be easily passed on and reused by someone else.

Being bespoke, people often have to wait a couple of months or so for their prosthetic to be ready, and then they need to be checked and serviced regularly.

As I say, all of this makes prosthetics expensive. Some devices can cost upwards of £5,000 – myo-electric models, at least twice that. Some organisations provide free prosthetics, but their waiting lists can be long – sometimes about a year.

The problem of access is worse, I discovered, for children – who outgrow their prosthetics so quickly – and for people in developing countries where there are few trained prosthetists and little or no manufacturing expertise.

To help enrich the lives of lovely people like Zoey, I decided to use my degree’s final year project to explore possible solutions to the problems of access, expense, delay, and device longevity and sustainability.

What is ExpHand and how does it address these problems?

ExpHand is a 3D printed prosthetic arm that can be adjusted to fit any child, aged three to 10 years old. It costs less than £50 to produce.

Using 3D printing means that ExpHands can be manufactured relatively quickly and cost effectively, with little waste, close to where they are needed. The technique also opens up opportunities for customisation in style and colour, making the devices more appealing to young people.

My design is modular and makes use of a universal socket. So, it’s easy to fit and adjust as a child grows – without the need of a visit to a specialist. It can also be passed on to someone else once the original user outgrows it. And, when it reaches the end of its useful life, its components can be recycled and made into parts for new prosthetics.

Although intended for use in the developing world – where most prosthetics are currently ill-fitting second-hand devices – ExpHand is, of course, also suitable for children in the developed world.

My idea is to make ExpHand accessible wherever you live – with online and in-store sales worldwide. The latter will be possible via a network of franchise outlets run by organisations like NGOs and charities.

Tell me about your journey so far – from idea to start-up.

Having nurtured the idea for ExpHand as an undergraduate, I established my company during my Masters year; completing all of the design work – sketches, CAD, and 3D renders – and producing 3D print test pieces and prototypes.

In 2019, I was thrilled to be among the winners of the University’s Business Plan Competition and Enterprise Awards as well as The University of Nottingham’s Ingenuity19 programme which supports disruptive, innovative businesses. I was also selected to take part in the EIT Healthcare Entrepreneurship Summer School, BioCity Business Accelerator Programme, and Engineers in Business Competition.

These opportunities taught me a lot – providing expert mentoring as well as much needed funding to accelerate the business.

I recently joined The Studio, the University’s graduate start-up programme based in LU Inc., the the Incubator on LUSEP.

Being a Studio member is great. I receive training, mentoring and tailored advice as well as business funding. Its shared workspace is the perfect base for me, and I have access to the resources, facilities and expertise I need to continue refining ExpHand.

The big news for me, at the moment, is that I’m just about to submit a patent application for ExpHand. This is something I’ve been working on for quite a while – it’ll put me in a very strong position moving forward, taking me one step further in my journey to launching my product. 

What sorts of things have you found helpful along the way?

All of the above!

A crucial thing has been the support of my mentors. They’ve taught me so much about building a brand, accounting, finance and business management – helping me overcome any number of obstacles.

Building professional and peer networks has also been a boost. I’m thrilled to have made connections with academics, clinicians and entrepreneurs across the UK as well as several international charities.

On a personal level, developing ExpHand in The Studio alongside other new business owners is great. It’s a supportive environment, and being able to share first-hand advice on the practicalities of starting up is invaluable.

The funding that I’ve secured via various awards has, of course, been essential to ExpHand’s development. It can be time-consuming, but it’s well worth it. The recognition and publicity they provide are also an effective way to spread the word about what you’re doing.

What does 2020 hold in store for you and ExpHand?

Well, I’m keeping everything crossed for the patent application, and – to help me move the business to the next stage – I’m seeking partners in the prosthetics and medical industries, with 3D printing companies, and franchisees in the developing world.

I also plan to continue using competitions to gain exposure, grow an even stronger network, and attract potential funding including from angel investors. I currently have three submitted award applications – the Leicester Innovation Awards, F Factor, and the Med-Tech Innovation Awards – and would like to secure support from Innovate UK. Wish me luck!

Following testing and user trials this spring, my goal is to expand rapidly, and begin initial UK sales in the summer with the worldwide market opening up soon after. I’m also exploring how to expand the ExpHand product range to accommodate other types of limb loss.

So, I’ve got another busy and exciting year ahead.

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