Sports prostheses need to be more accessible for active people with amputations. This is the view of start-up Levitate, which has developed a solution in collaboration with experts from DTU that could potentially revolutionise the sports technology market for people with physical disabilities.
While some may only be familiar with the bizarre crime story of para-athlete Oscar Pistorius, leg amputations and the subsequent physical limitation are commonplace for many.
Every year, around 150,000 people are amputated in the US – in this country alone, the figure is 1,700. The most common causes are diabetes, vascular disease, cancer and, not least, accidents and road traffic crashes. And while many lead normal lives, it’s still hard to get involved in sport and physical activity. Unless you are a professional para-athlete.
Because sports prostheses can easily cost between 60-180,000 and you have to go through a maze of expensive bandagers, specialists, doctors and suppliers to get your hands on one. DTU-based startup Levitate has set out to change that; the sports tech company is behind a one size fits all sports prosthesis, which they are using a cost-effective and patentable production method to make both cheaper and more accessible for active people with amputations.
Levitate’s ‘sports blades’ in action
“Imagine that before every run you have to visit your doctor or that every time you have to change your shoes, someone else has to do it for you. It’s really frustrating,” says Lasse Werner Madsen, founder and CEO of Levitate.
“Access to sports prostheses is not seen as a life-saving necessity for people with leg amputations. Therefore, it is both expensive, cumbersome and a hassle to get. And as an applicant, you repeatedly experience the feeling that others set the limits on what you can and cannot do,” he continues.
The entrepreneur has experienced this first-hand. At 14, a road accident resulted in him losing his right leg. But it was really only as an adult that the frustration set in.
“It was annoying not being able to play football with friends or go for a run when I wanted to, so I started researching the market. I started a dialogue with people with the same challenge through an international forum, and everywhere in the world the story was the same: Many couldn’t afford it and most had to try through NGOs, elite sponsors or a bank loan,” says Lasse Werner Masen of the process.
The product was developed together with DTU
Levitate’s solution is designed directly for the end user. The sports prosthesis costs a tenth of the market price (12,000 kroner) and is sold as a complete plug’n’play kit that you can adjust and fit yourself to the existing prosthesis solution, which is universal for all leg amputations.
“We give people the freedom to choose. The freedom to be independent of a system of grants, donations, insurance and the doctor’s waiting room,” says Lasse Werner Madsen.
Levitate’s ‘sports beast’ in action
After coming up with the idea, the entrepreneur quit his job in the maritime industry in January 2020 and contacted his alma mater, DTU, to get a collaboration on a prototype off
They wanted in. As a graduate engineer, he worked with DTU Wind to set up production facilities, certification, testing and expert help to make the prosthetics cheaper and more accessible.
“The idea was to start looking at sports prostheses as commonly available sports equipment. To make it like a bicycle, where you adjust the height to fit,” says the Levitate director.
Traditionally, most sports prostheses are made of carbon. But Levitate’s solution is made of fiberglass, which is 2.5 times more flexible. This means that the end user can get started using the prosthesis more quickly, as it is not as associated with pain and a long adjustment period.
“We made the solution out of fibreglass because it has greater mobility and is better for a normal active life of badminton, football or running on an everyday basis – not for gold medal athletics,” explains Werner Madsen.
Today, the six employees of Levitate have raised around DKK 6 million in several rounds of investment from the Growth Fund, the Innovation Fund and private investors
, among others.
And if you ask the main man himself, the sports tech company has the potential to become a global brand.
“We want to go where, if you play sports with a physical disability, you use Levitate equipment. This requires us to expand our product range, because the same challenges with authorities and the health system exist for other physical disabilities. In addition, we also need to reach out through more channels and in more countries than we do and are today,” says the Levitate man.
And Lasse Werner Madsen has no doubt about the impact that democratising sports prosthetics will have on people with physical disabilities.
“Everyone should have the opportunity for an active life. A sports prosthesis suddenly makes you feel part of social contexts. That you can participate on equal terms with everyone else from one day to the next,” says the founder.
One of the essential aspects of the product is therefore to produce equipment that the user is in control of.
“Our users love that they can do it all themselves. They gain confidence from being able to put it together themselves and a whole new body awareness. It’s a feeling of regaining control over their body that many people with physical disabilities are happy to feel again,” concludes Lasse Werner Madsen with a smile.
Levitate is currently sold on four continents and, in addition to investment rounds, has received the HeyFunding grant for their product.
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