In the US, around 70,000 people lose their legs every year because of diabetic foot amputation. A smart insole by New York-based startup Bonbouton may become a solution for those suffering from diabetes to help avoid loosing their foot. We talked with Bonbouton CEO & Founder Linh Le (@letunglinh) about science, healthcare and running for a better life.
Bonbouton develops a smart insole with proprietary embedded graphene sensors monitoring the patient’s feet health. It helps to prevent foot ulcers and reduce the frequency of physician visits. If you are wearing the insole, you may allow access to the application to your friend, insurance company or physician to monitor your daily activity.
From a scientist to entrepreneur
When I was doing my PhD, I got interested in a nanomaterial called graphene. Back in 2009–2010, it was a relatively new material rapidly making its way into new advancements across several fields, and I started to research how to apply it into practice.
Graphene is an extremely thin sheet of pure carbon with a high flexibility, strength and electrical and thermal conductivity. After two University of Manchester graphene researchers received the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics, graphene gained worldwide fame.
Switching from being just a scientist to being an entrepreneur was difficult but doable. I always wanted to commercialize technology and focused more on asking application-oriented scientific questions rather than answering the basic science ones. Science is a spectrum: some scientists search the answers for very fundamental questions, others like me want to apply fundamental basics into applications so innovation can later be brought into the market.
The difference between being a scientist and an entrepreneur lies in the way you need to communicate with people. Scientists communicate through writing papers and publishing researches while executives should use different ways of communications, ranging from panel speaking, emails and PR media in order to draw attention from a bigger audience and show the importance of their work.
Whether you are a scientist, entrepreneur or simply a human being, you always have to make a progress and move forward no matter how small the steps you take. I am trying my best to create something that makes impact on others. As long as I see the impact of my work, I can smoothly proceed further.
My father passed away in 2015 because of cancer. When he was diagnosed, it was already too late. That’s why my current project is related to the early detection and prevention of a disease. I do not want other human beings to suffer from diabetic ulcer, which can lead to amputation or death and will do my best in order to avoid it.
The more I am working on my current project, the more I become passionate about healthcare. A year ago, I was passionate about commercializing technology and the way to bring technology into different applications. However, now I am focused on changing people lives by developing connected devices and preventing diabetic patients from foot amputation.
Why entrepreneurship is like a marathon
My passion for running corresponds directly to my life principles.
If you are running 100m, you can push yourself and get over it fast. However, if you are doing a marathon, you need to pace yourself and save enough energy to cover the whole distance. You need a strategy.
I know that I will calm down only when enough impact for people is done. Therefore, I need a strategy to determine how fast I should go in order to reach the finish line.
From words to action
I found out about Makers Boot Camp from the managing director Nobuhiro “Nob” Seki who I met in New York and explained me the idea of Monozukuri Bootcamp, a hardware startup hub in Kyoto. In the summer of 2016, I spent two months in Japan working alongside MBC team and getting a valuable experience. Now, MBC Shisaku Fund has been launched and Bonbouton became one of the portfolio companies funded by Makers Boot Camp.
The next milestone is to make 100 prototypes by the next year and successfully test them on patients. We could make a small-scale prototyping batch of smart insoles in New York, but mass production should be done in Asia. Makers Boot Camp has a lot of experience that will help our company to scale up from the lab experiments to the medium-scale prototyping.
Having a smart insole in rapidly aging Japan would help to predict and prevent injures of senior citizens. For example, if a senior citizen falls, the app sends a notification to the police and someone can support with fast aid.
In addition, we need to get approval from FDA (The Food and Drug Administration in the USA) before we can sell the product. Once our product is marked as a safe, we are ready to go ahead!
Smart clothing and Fashion
Someday smart clothing may become fashionable. However, in an early developing cycle, it is important to focus on functionality first, and after the usability has been confirmed, add some fashion on top of that. It is similar to making sushi or sashimi. You have to start with a good fish first, and after making a good cut you can add something more.
At the same time, it might become not so cheap. We estimate the price for the smart insole to be around 100 USD. Non-technical insole in USA is sold at 20–50 USD. Here we have a connected device, and we know that people would buy it for 100 USD, considering the cost-benefit.
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