In this episode we cover:
- The story of how Keoke and the team at Participant. Life got started in the Wheelchair industry and what they’re set out to solve.
- The current status of the wheelchair industry.
- Understand the basics of how the Participant business model works and their plan to scale.
- A 101 on 3D Printing, the benefits of building a company using 3D printing, and an overview of how the cost structure works.
- A high-level look at where Participant is now with their business and what’s next.
- Quick collaboration on brainstorming what it will take to fully support all 70 million with those without wheelchairs.
“Participant is about participation for people with disabilities. We believe everyone everywhere can have the assistive products they need to participate in society.” Koeke says.
The company will be the first B Corporation medical device company, with their innovative social impact business model around 3D printing medical devices.
The vision of the company is for the 70 million people who need a wheelchair can get what they need. Since wheelchairs are expensive, the supply and demand has been non-existent in emerging markets. Once a government subsidizes medical devices, an emerging market country can shift their access to medical devices dramatically.
Koeke’s Grandmother was disabled for most of her life as a result of a mistreated fracture when she was young. He noticed how cumbersome her environment was, and not at all conducive to wheelchair access. After observing her struggle, his brain went to work. “I have a knack for design and thinking about how to make systems better.”
Once he got into 3D printing, Koeke realized he could solve some of the problems he saw his Grandmother facing. 3D printers could print assistive devices to make better quality wheelchairs available to more people.
The Business Model
Participant sells high-end wheelchairs to western markets that fit in the trunk of a car and are durable. They do not price the wheelchairs based on Medicare suggestions, they choose the price based on their costs. And, since they sell direct to the market rather than through a medical device provider, they can make the wheelchairs more affordable.
The wheelchairs sold to emerging markets sell for about half of the price of US-sold products. Local NGOs subsidize the devices and then governments begin to catch on. Once governments are subsidizing medical device purchases, Participant has broken into the new market.
Though Participant does sell directly to the consumer in the U.S., they do not sell directly to consumers in emerging markets. Parents require training for how to use and maintain the wheelchairs. Selling to NGOs and government organizations in these markets allows them to distribute and train families.
With 3D printing, Participant can now:
- Save time on manufacturing
- Print in small batches, rather than manufacturing large wholesale batches
- Print small batches for introductory demand in new markets
- Use top materials for wheelchairs that are produced quickly
- Complexity and customization is not a problem with 3D printing, whereas manufacturing limits custom styles and options.
- Reduce cost for production: $30 million investment to build a manufacturing plant vs several hundred thousand to build a 3D printing hub.
How Participant will Grow
Medical device companies don’t typically raise investment, so Participant has a plan B. After launching a crowdfunding campaign in a new market, Participant can presell product and sell enough to get the attention of local governments.
That way, even if governments do not buy in, the cost of entering emerging markets is subsidized by selling to higher priced markets. If the governments and nonprofits do buy in, then Participant can set up pilot projects to build trust in the country.
- The power of 3D printing. Participant can produce this equipment at 30% of the cost of regular wheelchair production!
- If you have a product-based company, are you prepared to be disrupted by 3D printing?
- The role of governments and NGOs in entering an emerging market. Participant is taking multiple setup steps to earn the trust of governments and NGOs, and also to prove the value of their product.
- New ways to measure KPI’s for an impact company: The participant team measures the number of additional days a person can participate in society by using their products.