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Health Tech: David Wu On How Motus Nova’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Overall Wellness

An Interview With Dave Philistin

Establish a community. For survivors of neurologic injuries, the process of recovery can be isolating. To combat this, we developed a virtual community to let individuals from across the world interact with each other and share their progress, tips, and tricks for recovery. This fit well with the telehealth capabilities of our robotic rehabilitation devices as we can host live help and assessment sessions to ensure individuals are getting the most out of their rehab. In addition, this gave Motus Nova a conduit by which we can inform users of our vision for the future of neurorehab, solicit feedback, and keep people abreast of updates and progress.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Wu.

David Wu is the Founder and CEO of Motus Nova, a healthcare technology company utilizing robotics and artificial intelligence algorithms to deliver personalized neurologic rehabilitation to thousands of stroke survivors in the comfort and convenience of their own home. David is an entrepreneur with over 10 years of technology, engineering, and commercialization experience. He has experience working in the strategy and operations domains through his time at Deloitte and he brings these perspectives as he leads the transdisciplinary at Motus Nova.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

Happy to be here, and thank you so much for having me.

Reflecting on my childhood, I would say that I’m thankful for all of my family’s sacrifices to put me where I am today. At seven years of age my family emigrated to the US, and certainly this would come to be a defining moment in my life — both in the shaping of who I am today and the opportunities that would be open to me.

I think the most challenging aspect of transitioning from a stable career to being an entrepreneur is the willingness to give up on the certainty of the known and to risk it all on the uncertainty of a dream or idea. I think in many ways, the idea of becoming an immigrant represents one of the purest driving forces behind what makes an entrepreneur tick — a dissatisfaction of the present, a belief in a better future, and the drive to make that change today. We came to the US with nothing

I had no idea at the time, but reflecting back . My family came into the US with nothing and worked extremely hard to provide me with an education and a shot. I am beyond thankful for those seminal experiences as they made me who I am today. Not being satisfied with current circumstances and having the courage to dive into the unknown provided the drive force for me to become an entrepreneur.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The most impactful moment came fairly early when I was involved in some of the clinical trials with our robotic rehab technology deploying stroke rehabilitation care to underserved rural Veterans. Many of the stroke survivors we were serving otherwise had trouble accessing care due to logistics and lack of transportation to receive the care they needed and were entitled to. One Veteran remained in a wheelchair several years after his stroke; he had at one point made enough progress in his rehabilitation to walk independently, but lost access to transportation which cascaded into losing regular outpatient physical therapy. We were able to deploy a robotic system to him and upon completion of the study period, we visited him to perform our final evaluations. What I saw that day will stick with me for the rest of my life. As we drove down the gravel road to his house, we say him walk out of his house and with a smile on his face said that he was now able to walk laps around his house now that he has the confidence and strength from doing his Motus Foot rehab.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

The success at Motus Nova is in no small part due to our multidisciplinary team. If I had to pick a particular person, Dr. Nick Housley, PhD, DPT, PT has been instrumental in our mission of making healthcare more inclusive and accessible. As a neuroscientist and clinician, he brings deep knowledge of the medical needs of survivors of neurologic injuries. He has been there with me since the beginning and we have been working on rehabilitation robotics for the better part of a decade now and have innumerable successes along the way. A salient example emerged from one of the many evening brainstorming sessions when we had the idea to address a major gap in the stroke survivor path of recovery, namely access to digestible, evidence-based information and answers to their questions. As the US healthcare system has become a hyper-efficient system, the time in which providers can not only stay up-to-date on the literature but also communicate that information to their patients has been eroded. We had the idea to fill that gap by creating a forum in which Nick, as a clinician-scientist, leads live, online discussions where he answers all questions related to stroke, brain injury, and neuroscience free and open to all.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There is a recent quote from Elon Musk that really resonated with me. He states “It’s relatively easy to make a prototype but extremely difficult to mass manufacture a vehicle reliably at scale. For cars it’s maybe 100 times harder to design the manufacturing system than the car itself.” While we are not in the electric car industry, a cursory survey of the field of neurorehab would identify striking parallels. Hundreds of robotic systems aimed at treating stroke survivors have been designed and developed but they are almost exclusively relegated to the lab or large hospital system. This failure is likely due in part (dare I say exclusively) to inattention to the challenges of scale. Overcoming that barrier has been the prime focus of Motus Nova and is one of the main reasons why we have been the first to deploy 1000s of robotic rehabilitation devices to stroke survivors across the country.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Check your priors. As with any innovation, as opposed to incremental progress, it requires working against conventional wisdom. For David and myself to achieve our goal, we had to throw out the usual playbook of medical device development and forge a novel path. Without the strong prior (that would have pigeonholed us to a set path), we have been able to develop and deploy safe and effective stroke rehab that is helping thousands of survivors. If we pursued the traditional path, Motus Nova’s technologies could have been resigned to stay one-off investigational devices in a lab like the hundreds of pieces of technology that came before.

Adaptable. As we continue to serve greater numbers of stroke survivors and clinicians, we continue to learning ways to improve not only our hardware, software, and user interface but we continue to develop deeper understanding of the human needs of each individual and their care partners. These opportunities help us refine the technology to optimize efficacy and develop better ways to educate and advocate for those that we serve. These advancements are integrated into all of our processes daily.

Creative. While there are many aspects foundational to Motus Nova that creativity drives progress and success, I would focus on creativity’s role in our drive to scale the capabilities of our at home robotic systems, the Motus Hand and Motus Foot. For example, creative thinking has driven advancements in the manufacturing process that has allowed us to simultaneously improve engineering efficiency while reducing costs. If the team did not have the freedom to think creatively, we would not have realized such innovative ways to solve long-standing problems, and as a result we would not be able to deliver such high-quality treatments to as many stroke survivors.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?

Few stroke survivors (and other survivors of neurologic injury) achieve their maximal medical recovery. This multifactorial problem exists because barriers collectively result in not enough rehab being delivered and what is offered is frequently too slow and expensive. For example, transportation limitations, geographic restrictions to qualified providers, scheduling conflicts, dependence on care partners, and financial constraints are just a few critical rate limited steps that prevent individuals from realizing their true potential. In addition, delivery of high quality, evidence-based treatment at a dose that is sufficient is nearly impossible for the US healthcare system. While it seems simple enough, survivors of neurologic injuries rarely get the adequate care the evidence suggests would maximize their potential. To really emphasize this point, let me briefly summarize the chief finding of a seminal study that quantified the amount of therapy individuals received during typical neurorehabilitation sessions. The authors found that on average only 32 movements (the active ingredient in neurorehabilitation) were performed per session. This is a fraction of the 400 to 600 movements per day we know are needed to induce positive changes. So, despite knowing how much medicine to deliver, survivors of neurologic injury rarely get what is referred to as a sufficient dose. It is no wonder then why outcomes are so poor.

This is not a small problem, stroke is the leading cause of long-term disability across the US. It results in persistent functional impairments in nearly 4.5 million individuals and that figure does not account for the countless indirect effects distributed across family, friends, care partners and the community as a whole.

How do you think your technology can address this?

Motus Nova’s mission is to overcome the previously described barriers by offering high quality neurorehabilitation treatments from the comfort and convenience of a survivor’s home. We are an Atlanta based healthcare technology company that has developed, tested, and validated therapeutic approaches that help survivors of neurologic injuries improve the use of their arms and hands as well as their walking abilities. Our robotic devices, which we call the Motus Hand and Motus Foot are used in the home to guide survivors through a neurologic rehabilitation treatment called repetitive task practice, shown to be one of the best options to improve function.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

Again, being a part of the clinical trials was one of the seminal moments in my journey. When Nick and I were working with the original technologies in the clinic and hospital systems, we were given unique insights into the capacity for these robotic based neurorehab to improve lives. Those benefits extended beyond the individual stroke survivor, as care partners and family members realized benefits. However, despite a promising outlook, these systems, like many innovative technologies in the past, could have easily been resigned to stay as investigational devices. It was that realization, conditioned on the millions of people that could benefit, that provided the impetus for us to start Motus Nova with the express purpose of removing the barriers that have previously prevented stroke survivors from accessing these clinically proven therapies.

How do you think this might change the world?

We have been working on rehabilitation robotics for the better part of a decade now and are integrating all we have learned through our scientific studies, clinical trials and business experiences to deliver not only the first FDA Class 1 robotic device with the ability to actively assist stroke survivors in their homes but also to ensure that it can scale with the exceptionally large population of individuals in the US who need additional treatment. While we envision many positive effects on society, we are already realizing several substantial effects now!

Many of the current users of the Motus Hand and Motus Foot are able to engage in 5–10x the amount of rehab they previously received in traditional programs. While this has the potential to improve long-term outcomes, because the cost of the system is fixed on a monthly basis, increasing the hours of use necessarily means the cost per hour is reduced. In some cases, individuals are receiving rehab for as low as $5–10/hour. It should be noted that this is not a replacement for skilled therapy services; however, critical review of the current healthcare system forces one to reconcile the fact that cost effective approaches to complement existing models of medical delivery are needed. Motus Nova mission is to meet that need.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

This is a valid concern, as there have been many off-target effects of technology over the years. One salient example is how data is used. At Motus Nova, we are driven to utilize data to not only help each stroke survivor maximize their medical recovery but through high fidelity monitoring we can learn about the recovery process itself. This is a fundamental gap in knowledge in the field and is only accessible through technologies such as the Motus Hand and Motus Foot. Without that knowledge we could only hope to speculate about what is the optimal strategy for an individual. Instead we can now take a data drive rehab approach where machine learning models ingest data on an individual’s performance and condition rehab to maximize a specific goal, e.g. improved grip strength. Moreover, by integrating individual models, we can share information across clusters of stroke survivors with similar characteristics and responses, allowing us to update inferences in real-time about the best parameters to set for a rehab intervention across many individuals.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

Need/Problem-Based. While it seems obvious, for technology to have a positive social impact, it must address some fundamental need or degeneracy in the system. Innovators should ask themselves, what their technology is intended to do? If it is developed will it have the impact I am hoping? How can the probability of success be maximized while minimizing the potential adverse effects?

Iterate Fast: There are always unknown unknowns in the research and development of innovative technologies. Utilizing a rapid development cycle is one way to reveal those hidden features and offers an opportunity for correction.

Team: Technology is growing evermore complex as it addresses larger societal problem. As a result, an interdisciplinary team is necessary for success. However, skills are but one factor that dictates success, each member must also share the in the vision to achieve the collective goal.

Seek critical feedback (preferably from novel eyes): expert blindness can cripple many elements of technology development and deployment. Stated another way, inventors and innovators can often find themselves too close to the tech to have objective views on its utility. To combat this, seek critical feedback from individuals who have ideally no prior experience with your technology but are as close to the intended audience. For example, during the development of the Motus Foot and Motus Hand user experience (UX), we sought critical feedback from the stroke survivor community on how to best design the shipping materials to make one-handed unboxing feasible.

Establish a community. For survivors of neurologic injuries, the process of recovery can be isolating. To combat this, we developed a virtual community to let individuals from across the world interact with each other and share their progress, tips, and tricks for recovery. This fit well with the telehealth capabilities of our robotic rehabilitation devices as we can host live help and assessment sessions to ensure individuals are getting the most out of their rehab. In addition, this gave Motus Nova a conduit by which we can inform users of our vision for the future of neurorehab, solicit feedback, and keep people abreast of updates and progress.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

The advancement of humanity depends on constant evolution and pressure from individuals that see fundamental gaps in knowledge or degeneracy then decide to act. Taking part in that progress is fraught with challenges but it may be the most rewarding endeavor any human can undertake.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Dr. Fauci’s experiences are manifold and span from mechanistic discovery to development of effective treatments and ultimately through to the cultivation and widespread adoption of those innovations in the healthcare system through his policy advocacy. It would be an honor to share a meal with Dr. Fauci and learn how he shepherded projects through to their ultimate goal of helping improve the human condition.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Thanks so much for this opportunity to share our insights with your readership and I look forward to connecting with them.

Everyone is welcome to follow me on Instagram, Linkedin, Facebook, or Twitter (@wu_dave).

Also, come check out what we are doing at Motus Nova to help stroke survivors recover in the comfort and convenience of their homes. Here

We also have a Facebook support group that I am very active in. I do my best to answer all questions about neuroscience, rehab, and robotics/technology. Here

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Dave Philistin, CEO of Candor

Dave Philistin, CEO of Candor

Dave Philistin Played Professional Football in the NFL for 3 years. Dave is currently the CEO of the cloud solutions provider Candor

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