Many people with disabilities face difficulties in autonomous mobility as they cannot use their hands to steer the electric wheelchair.
ESA BIC Bavaria alumnus and MedTech startup Munevo aims to support people with disabilities in increasing their mobility and independence through hands-free wheelchair driving. Its smart technology consists of its munevo DRIVE smartglasses, which are equipped with high-end sensor technology. This allows the user to steer their wheelchair with simple head movements. The smartglasses are connected to Munevo’s app with an intuitive user interface. Besides wheelchair control, Munevo’s technology can also be connected to other services, for example smart home systems, smartphones, computers or robotic arms. This is the easiest and most intuitive solution currently on the market compared to other steering options that require intensive assembly on the wheelchair.
Munevo was initiated in 2018 and was able to obtain approval as a medical product in the same year. The team finished its incubation at ESA BIC Bavaria in 2020, after receiving 18 months of technical support by Fraunhofer IIS. Munevo also recently started a crowdfunding campaign.
Pia Feurstein, ESA BIC Bavaria Junior Project Manager at AZO, interviews Claudiu Leverenz, CEO of Munevo.
PF: Please give us a sneak peek of your product and the team behind it.
CL: Munevo DRIVE is a control system for wheelchairs based on smart glass technology. It helps people to drive their wheelchair independently and regain their freedom. The team behind it consists of the 4 founders Konstantin, Aashish, Deepesh and Claudiu. The extended team now counts around 20 members including sales professionals, developers and international students.
Munevo DRIVE is not only a control system, but much more besides. The vision is to create a life assistant that helps people. For this reason, the team developed a platform on the smartglasses that includes many add-ons to connect to the computer, smartphone and the home environment, which then enables people to do even more.
PF: What has been your company’s biggest challenge so far?
CL: The biggest challenge was the certification as a medical product and the first reimbursement by public healthcare insurance. Regulatory and healthcare systems are very complex and also change over time.
PF: Can you explain the three main ingredients of your recipe for success?
CL: Munevo works very closely with the users of the solution and alwauys listens to their needs. Giving up was also never an option, so hard work made the success possible. Finally, without a great team and diverse backgrounds with different perspectives, this would not have happened.
PF: Did the Covid-19 outbreak have any effects on your business and/or are you expecting any impacts in the future?
CL: Yes, we were not able to do any more user tests for the time being. The user test is the basis for the insurance company and the approval for reimbursement. We adapted to a more virtual method, but the user ultimately needs to make sure he can drive with munevo DRIVE. We maintain high standards in terms of hygiene and make sure that there are no risks for either the user or our team.
PF: What did you expect from ESA BIC Bavaria? How did the initiative and its network help you to kick-start your business case?
CL: We wanted to see if we can combine the technology with a different use case. There are examples from overseas that show that it is possible. I think that, first of all, we will focus on the users on Earth. However, we have already met a wheelchair user who wants to go into space and we will enable him to do this for sure.
Every startup needs a big network and that definitely helped us a lot. In this regard, we are still getting lots of help and information through the network and it is great to still be part of it.
PF: How did Fraunhofer IIS support you?
CL: We were lucky to receive expert opinions on new developments as well as input for potential new use cases. The time went fast, but we are happy to continue being part of ESA BIC Bavaria’s network as an alumnus. Nevertheless, we have the right contacts now to reach out in case we continue development in those business cases.
PF: Let’s reach for the stars – what is going to happen in Munevo’s future?
CL: Munevo will grow to be the leading assistive technology provider that helps people worldwide and enables them to live an independent life. In the short term, Munevo plans to not only expand into other EU countries, but also expand its products. New products or add-ons are currently being launched almost every month. Considering the medium term, Munevo plans to develop its technology much further and eventually launch a new way of controlling a wheelchair. In addition, the team is also receiving many requests from the US and would love to enter this exciting market where even more people are in need of munevo DRIVE.
Did you enjoy this interview with Munevo? Stay tuned for upcoming interviews with more ESA BIC Bavaria innovators on our AZO Blog.