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Project Circleg is an innovative start-up based in Switzerland. Its main goal is to promote freedom of mobility by providing lower-limb prosthetic systems for above-knee and below-knee amputees in East Africa. The prostheses are made from recycled plastic, creating lightweight, high-quality and comfortable prosthetic components. The aim of this start-up is to offer affordable and yet highly functional lower limb prosthetic systems, meeting amputee-specific, local needs and circumstances. Circleg, as the name itself gives away, intends to produce with a mechanism of circular economy.
The cycle of production takes place locally - from the collection and recycling to production, distribution and fittings- making, therefore, a good social impact as it creates jobs locally and simplifies the logistics of the production.
Lastly, project Circleg not only positively impacts communities in Africa, but its actions are highly beneficial for the world as they are aligned with 10 out of the 17 SDGs established by the UN.
Project Circleg’s core team consists of eight highly motivated characters from different disciplines, who nevertheless share the same vision:
Among the team members mentioned above, we managed to get an interview with Nicole Colmenares Pulido and Laura Magni on different topics such as the innovation behind the product, the business benefit and also the social and environmental impact.
Project Circleg is a start-up innovation that intends to provide sustainable prostheses in East Africa. The idea was born in 2018 from the creative minds of two young students at the University of Arts in Switzerland: Simon & Fabian. At the time it was just an industrial design bachelor-degree project, but now it is a real-life project that is currently in its development stage with continuous improvement being made through testing.
Circleg is developing a prosthetic system for lower-knee and above knee-amputees made by reinforced and certified recycled plastic, immediately marking their Innovation. In fact, the world has many prosthetic systems but not so many are designed to be beneficial both for humans and the planet.
The prosthetic system is being made in collaboration with engineering, design companies and orthopedic technicians to best capture the specific needs of the amputees and to fit with ISO standards and recommendations of ISPO and WHO. The approach of the company is to be user-centric, where the key factor is to make a prosthesis that fits the needs of the amputees and allows them to do their day to day activity in the most comfortable and simple way possible. The project provides wide flexibility, thus offering adaptation to body size and the amount of activity required to perform.
A key factor of this innovation is its material cycle, divided in 6 well thought phases:
This project, apart from being innovative in the way it creates its product, is innovative because, from being based in Switzerland, it extends to offer prostheses to a market sector with a vast need, accentuated by low access to specific products such as these and somewhat low morale on ever getting their full abilities back.
“We want to empower amputees, showing that that life doesn't end after amputation.” Nicole
As mentioned before the project was founded by Simon and Fabian. The two were inspired by the idea of doing good through what they knew they could do well, which is design. The idea for the project came from a trip to India where Fabian discovered a company, the Jaipur Foot Project, that made low-cost prosthetic systems and distributed them all around the world.
The journey started and the two took part in an industrial design bachelor-degree project in Zurich at the University of Arts in March 2018. In this project they presented for the first time their idea of making a prosthetic leg with recycled plastic, they also created a first prototype and the whole idea gave them their first success by winning the project.
However, the two wanted to make a real impact; therefore, instead of stopping their work, they expanded more.
The selection of the country to work in was crucial, as they wanted to help those really in need; therefore, they selected east Africa, starting from Kenya. The two youngsters, after a trip to Kenya, understood that the demand was high all around the continent due to a weak healthcare system; moreover, most countries suffered from excessive garbage and plastics, thus putting those wastes to use would solve many problems. During their experience in Kenya they interviewed people in need, hospitals, local experts of recycling and prostheses; they were also able to connect with a Swiss/Kenyan recycling company, with the objective to establish the entire process locally, from the collection of plastic to the building of the prosthesis.
They shared their idea with as many people as they could and received very positive feedback on the viability of the project, thus they moved forward and created an interdisciplinary team with motivated and driven people.
Since then the development (2019/2020) of the project started. Currently, they are investing in the testing and industrialization of the product and are looking to distribute it by the end of 2022 and start of 2023.
This is the impressive story of how from the idea of putting their knowledge to good use a team built up an entire structure for people in need.
The two young designers have always been driven by love and the desire to build a better society: "What inspired us, and still inspires us today is seeing how we can use our skills to have a positive impact on people and the environment. Another source of inspiration are the various exchanges with interesting people and innovative organizations, as well as exposure to different cultures, perspectives and places," confesses Simon.
Project Circleg, apart from being highly innovative, is thought to be beneficial and positive for the society in which it develops its business. Due to the fact that the great majority of amputees worldwide lives in developing countries and most systems don't provide any solution, there is a huge and urgent need to tackle these gaps.
One of the main beneficial aspects of the project is to transfer the knowledge of the developed world to local engineers, technicians and technologists who can be involved in the process. About this point, it is a huge benefit to be based in Switzerland, since there are plenty of laboratories and institutions ready to support and make such projects possible, and additionally to help transfer all the capabilities, knowledge and high technological tools in the targeted countries.
Another essential impact, connected to the start-up, is the positive consequence related to the creation of additional jobs for local people. Moreover, “Freedom of mobility” has strong and positive implications for the amputee’s life: in fact, by having their legs back, they can return to their normal life, be reinserted in society, be able to work again, go to school again and regain their freedom.
Once these first products have been completed, and the Company has managed to offer the best quality in the market, a future goal could be the development of prostheses for arms and/or children, but there's also a demand for other types of assistive technology. Additionally, another positive impact is represented by the fact that the products are made just with reinforced and certified recycled plastics, ensuring bio-compatibility and recyclability, thus respecting the environment. Furthermore, the Company is establishing a local material cycle (mentioned above) with partners active in plastics recycling and manufacturing, in line with the principles of the circular economy.
Circleg sustainable products are hard to find in other competitor companies of the same sector; moreover prosthetic and orthotic care is a need all over the world. Project Circleg aims to launch the Circleg prosthetic system in 2022 in East Africa. The team of designers and engineers are currently refining and testing the prosthetic system being supported by experts, academia and industrial partners in Switzerland and East Africa. The procedures followed are outlined by the European Medical Device Regulations ensuring quality and safety for the users.
Currently, the company is completely funded from external sources, but its priority is to be 100% financially independent in the long term. The entire team strongly believes in this project, and as Laura and Nicole said, it is the combination of people and the work with the different branches that will allow this project to grow more and more; also by creating an atmosphere that is conducive for working and for the development of these products.
“We plan our days around. What are today’s priorities? How can we work together/ Who needs help, who can help?” -Nicole and Laura.
“We try to do things together, we organize trips where we get together for several days, and of course, we may talk about business, but we also have, and this is the most important part, the feeling that we are not working completely. The team is very close, and we are like friends.”-Nicole and Laura
Being a start-up implies that things are changing fast and, for example, one thing on which the company is currently working on is to better integrate the different divisions, since, there's the product part, the research and development, but also the fundraising and the business.
Their goal is to be able to be closer to all the sections and be more realistic in the planning phase so that a more responsive approach is adopted.
The group is also working on the integration between the team in Zurich and in Nairobi. Over time the needs change, so it's a continuous understanding of how the process can be improved. In fact, the project has to be flexible enough in order to take the next step.
Moreover, they constantly need more and more people in Kenya to manage the sales, marketing, and communication part.
The idea for the future is to grow with more and new people, who have the same mentality and desire to act in the best interest of the company, the society and the environment. Moreover, they are building a strong relationship network that is constantly growing and becoming one of their strengths; such network is also enhanced by the request of constant feedback on the products from research partners, implementation partners, marketing partners, from the investors and the users, which help to get a global view and to consider changes or improvements. Moreover, they advocate sustainability and believe that long-term management of limited resources is the key to success and a driver for innovation and growth. The COVID-19, fortunately, did not heavily impact the business, it was just a matter of delay in the development schedule since the laboratories had to temporarily close and the team was not able to go to Africa.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 35–40 million people in the world have huge needs for prostheses, orthoses and rehabilitation treatment. The main causes for such high numbers are traumas and inadequate availability of medicines, which might lead to amputations. Furthermore, developing countries have the highest percentage of people with disabilities (around 80%), since just few of them have access to assistive products, including prostheses and orthoses. As a consequence, the major problem in such countries is the difficulty to go back to normal life; in fact, many individuals lost their work and their social life, worsening their situation of impairment and disability on themselves, family and society.
These unfair situations are targeted by the Company, which develops high-quality and affordable prostheses that give back a leg, and more importantly a life, to such people.
The Company, in its aim to give back a normal life to these people, is taking into consideration how most prostheses are expensive and thus inaccessible for people in countries like Kenya; this is the reason why they choose to offer their product at a very affordable price.
Moreover, one of their main goals is to produce locally, so that they will be able to avoid logistical issues, create jobs for local people and transfer their knowledge to them.
Finally, they believe communication is an essential element; in fact, they want to develop more campaigns to sensibilize people, especially to make them not think about the aesthetic part and to normalize the theme.
Nicole Colmenares Pulido, Co-founder, Business development, Impact & Finance
Laura Magni, Co-Founder, Product & Business Development
Founded in 2018, Project Circleg is a start-up based in Switzerland and Kenya.
The company provides sustainable lower-limb prosthetic systems for above-knee and below-knee amputees in East Africa.