The student start-up protecting NHS heroes
A group of Edinburgh students and alumni have turned over their entire business – the 3D printing of prosthetic limbs – to join the efforts being undertaken across the UK to manufacture PPE (personal protective equipment) for NHS frontline staff.
An update and thank you
The Edinburgh start-up Augment Bionics has made great advances in the past couple of weeks. Thanks to the generosity of donors, their manufacture of PPE for the NHS has reached the production rate of 10,000 face shields per week.
In this video update we hear from an NHS doctor on the front line, and from one of the founders of Augment Bionics.
The start-up company, called Augment Bionics, began two years ago. It is the brainchild of two former students, who wanted to create alternative options for NHS patients in need of prosthetic limbs. However, on realising that their manufacturing equipment – high-end 3D printers – could be converted to create much-needed protective clothing, such as face shields, for medical staff treating people with coronavirus, the current team didn’t hesitate to make the changes required.
Supplying the kit medical keyworkers need
Augment Bionics Co-Founder, Elisabeth Feldstein, explains how a contact made when the company was first starting up set the team on this new course.
“At the outset of this health crisis we were able to reconnect with a GP who had helped guide us through our early stages of business in 2018,” says Elisabeth. “One of the first requests we received for PPE was from her. We are so thankful for all that she has done for us, and we are honoured to do our part in keeping her – and her colleagues – safe. We thank them for all for the work they are doing for the nation.”
The project founders were originally inspired to create prosthetic forearms, as affordable and highly functional bionic products. When they graduated, the project was taken on by the current team who were able to commercialize it into a viable business. Throughout this time, and at the core of Augment Bionics, is a vision for a better future, where cost is not a barrier to potentially life-changing medical devices.
In the early stages of development, the team received advice and support from Edinburgh Innovations (EI), the University’s commercial business arm. Winning EI’s Business Ideas Competition for engineering students and placing second in the Social and Environment category at the University’s Inspire Launch Grow 2019 Awards, confirmed Augment Bionics as a company with a promising future.
On a path to success
The start-up’s journey has been both rewarding and challenging. The company is made up of students as well as alumni, so many are balancing full-time studies and jobs alongside the work of Augment Bionics.
“I think I speak for the whole team when I say that the experience so far has taught us so much,” says Elisabeth. “Being able to grow professionally at such a young age, while knowing that the business is helping the lives of others, has been one of the greatest highlights. We have had successes and numerous failures but we understand that these experiences are necessary. Over the past year we attribute much of our success to the overwhelming support we have received from communities and individuals.”
Coming together for the community
Being in the early stages of business, the team has been able to adapt with agility to the unprecedented circumstances of the global pandemic.
“Right now it feels important that we all do our part to help out in any way we are able,” says Elisabeth. “Initially, when this global health crisis was emerging, I began to see a sense of panic. Now that we are coming to terms with our new reality for the time being, I’ve seen people come together and shine a light on the wonderful selfless initiatives people around the world are taking on.”
Sharing expertise and using the product for the benefit of society, is an ethos that the team behind Augment Bionics is dedicated to achieving.
“Giving back to our communities has always been at the heart of our technology,” explains Elisabeth. “When we saw the stories of other companies and individuals helping healthcare workers, we knew that it was time for us to step up.”
“Shortly after we posted on social media, about our intentions to provide free PPE to the NHS, we began receiving orders and this is when the reality of the situation hit,” she continues. “This has instilled a sense of urgency in our plans. We’ve had to bring our skills together quickly and come up with a plan of action, all within the last 72 hours. It’s been a challenge; but a challenge we are ready to take on.”
Adapting to life under lockdown
Like many of us, Elisabeth is currently also dealing with a change in personal circumstances. Based in the US when the virus broke out, she decided to travel to stay with her family in Canada before the travel restrictions came into force. She’s now working remotely with her colleagues in the UK.
“I feel extremely fortunate that I am able to be with family at this time while I continue to work with colleagues, but from home. And that’s really what I try to remember when I feel ‘cabin fever’ coming on,” she says.
Elisabeth has been finding ways to cope with isolation during the lockdown and offers the following advice: “I think the best we can do during this difficult time is find a way to relax, reconnect, and reflect. It’s a great opportunity to try some new hobbies, and it’s important to keep in mind that we are able to stay safe in our homes because of the efforts of others.”
“I have found that through this situation where there are so many unknowns I can only take each day as it comes,” she continues. “I have found some peace in reaching out to my communities and doing my part to make a difference. I recommend that for anyone who feels overwhelmed with the gravity of the situation to participate in a campaign or contribute to a cause they are passionate about.”
Elisabeth studied in the School of Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, graduating with an MChem in 2019.
Help with fundraising
To ensure that the face shields that Augment Bionics produce are given to frontline NHS staff free of charge, the company has set up a fundraising site: