An Ultrasound Innovation Nobody Had Thought of: Usono ProbeFix
Many market observers believe (with good reason) that the unapologetic speed of disruption in medical technology is based on mans’ continued technologicalisation of the methods used to treat illness and improve standards of care. Usono, an Eindhoven based Med-tech start-up company founded by three graduate engineers from Eindhoven Technical University, is proving that simplicity has the same potential to catalyse change as complexity.
The team has developed and commercialised ProbeFix: an ultrasound accessory which fixates ultrasound probes to the body during longterm sonography. ProbeFix is designed to improve the reproducibility of ultrasound results by removing the necessity for sonographers to manually hold the probe enabling hands-free continuous measurement which reduces the risk of repetitive strain injuries.
The problem which Usono is solving was conceived of during CEO Benjamin Tchang’s Masters research project. Tchang had set out to change the diagnostic journey for children with muscle disease. The traditional method of using needles to ascertain blood values would be switched with a much less invasive, ultrasound transducer based, dynamic muscle measurement with the patient in motion on an exercise bike.
The project demonstrated the difficulty in obtaining the same accuracy of data reading in this less invasive method as the needle injection was able to provide. The reason was Tchang’s inability to gain an accurate reading from the transducer because it could not be affixed in place on the patient’s body during movement.
This gap between actionable diagnostic reading and comfort is where Usono was born.
Two years later…
The world of ultrasound now has ProbeFix at its disposal. Tchang combined his vision for diagnostic improvement with the industrial design skills of his Eindhoven contemporaries Victor Donker (COO & Industrial Designer) and Jori Verbeek (CTO & Industrial Designer) to develop this novel solution. The profound simplicity of the product has practitioners wondering why the market has waited so long for such a useful tool. As Lucien Engelen – Director Reshape Centre at the University of Nijmegen acutely observed “Sometimes innovations are so simple that it is surprising they were not there before”
The rapid successes of Usono have led to the growth of the team from just three to a current team of 12 employees based at the company’s HQ at the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven.
Product design innovations have replaced the 3D printed prototypes ProbeFix with a sleek, nimble ABS casted version which demonstrates an even greater capacity for probe compatibility thanks to the modular Probe Adapters.
The company have made the device compatible with probes manufactured by key market players such as Philips, GE, Siemens, Esaote and Mindray. The market coverage represented by just these manufacturers is staggering and combined with the fact that there are no more than 10 probe manufacturers with any kind of significant market share, through their patented technology Usono are seizing an opportunity to corner a lucrative market quickly.
2017 was a successful ‘start-up’ year for the three founders, after the great successes during the top-notch acceleration program HighTechXL of which they were part of in mid-2016. In 2017 the team ticked a number of big boxes and provided some promising indicators for future prosperity; they obtained CE mark, signed some crucial distribution deals with high quality international selling distributing (Mermaid Medical – Scandinavia, Netherlands, UK, Spain and Portugal, X-Sanatec – Belgium and Luxemburg and Anaeron Medical Supplies – Australia and New Zealand), Quadrupled the size of their staff, moved to their own office, raised some crucial funding, won some prestigious awards and most importantly, they actually sold some product in no less than 11 countries.
The plan for 2018 is to build on the successes of 2017 by significantly increasing the scale of the international sales operation establishing a sales presence in 20-30 countries and taking the Usono message to a global audience of prospective customers.
Longer term there are a number of projects in the R&D machine at Usono, with the hope of new products on the market this year and an innovation pipeline which looks set to keep the company ahead of disruption for a long time.