A local business with a global goal of making it easier and more affordable for lower-limb amputees to live fuller lives took top honors at the most recent San Diego Angel Conference at the University of San Diego.
LIMBER Prosthetics & Orthotics, an early-stage company co-founded in 2020 by University of California San Diego graduates Joshua Pelz and Luca De Vivo, bested more than 100 applicants at the SDAC final pitch event April 22 at USD.
The conference, a USD Knauss School of Business program now in its fifth year, activates accredited angel investors and engages promising early-stage companies.
LIMBER received the highest amount of funding by SDAC attendees this year – $200,000. The company, initially born out of a 2016 Jacobs School of Engineering class taught by UCSD professor Falko Kuester, was also voted “People’s Choice” among the conference attendees.
The conference was the culmination of seven months of activating accredited angel investors, providing educational events and mentoring for participating early-stage companies.
Two other companies also were awarded by SDAC at the pitch event. Relavo, a home kidney dialysis manufacturing company out of New York, received at least $150,000 in funding; San Diego-based Athletiverse, which connects businesses and brands to college athletes, received at least a $75,000 investment.
SDAC Founder Mysty Rusk said that the actual amount raised by the finalists could increase as investors may elect to invest in the startups as individual investors.
SDAC’s main objectives are to activate accredited investors and fund innovative early-stage companies, she said. “Securing an angel investment doesn’t require affluence, education, or wealth,” Rusk added. “It requires a smart solution to a real-world problem and an entrepreneur with tenacity and a tolerance for risk.”
LIMBER is the acronym of Limber Integrative Imaging Modeling Manufacturing for Bold Exoskeleton Research project. It makes 3D-printed prostheses for those without access to quality prosthetic care.
Help for Tens of Millions
According to the World Health Organization, of the estimated 40 million amputees in developing countries, more than 90% do not have a prosthetic device.
“We’re very mission driven,” said Pelz, a Ph.D. in materials, science and engineering from UCSD. “We’re passionate about using our technology to change the status quo and really focus on why 9 out of 10 amputees are currently left behind.”
The LIMBER story began when Vivo and Pelz were moving toward their PhDs in Kuester’s Engineering Human Frontiers class, which Pelz said pushed students to “use engineering for good to solve societal problems.”
Herb Barrack, a certified prosthetist, was invited to visit the class as a subject matter expert, in part because for the past 25 years, Barrack has been running a group called Limbs of Freedom in Mexico.
Limbs of Freedom is part of an international project and joint effort of the Coronado Rotary Club and Club Rotario Calafia-Ensenada, and has donated more than 500 prosthetic limbs to those in need.
Pelz said he and De Vivo in 2019 first went to Mexico with Barrack to see where Limbs of Freedom does the bulk of its work. There, their “passion was ignited,” he said.
The two students watched how prosthetics were made and came up with an early prototype of their own, which they continued to perfect even as they continued trips to Ensenada to watch the magic happen over the next two years.
“We had a purpose at that point,” Pelz said. “I mean, literally, it was an incredible experience to see firsthand how technology can make such a big difference.”
He said the challenge they saw from the start was getting “this extreme expertise into these hard-to-reach areas.”
During subsequent trips to Mexico, Pelz and De Vivo interviewed prosthetists and those using prosthetics to find out what worked, what needed work and how to deliver a more effective and more efficient prosthetic device.
The two realized that printing the devices digitally would be the way to help the most people, while keeping costs down.
The company plans its initial soft commercial launch in San Diego during first quarter of 2024. It has already begun a local partnership with ABI P&O (formerly Ability Biomechanics International), piloting its technology.
Mostly bootstrapped since its start, LIMBER’s plan is to use the funds from the SDAC as well as other grants it has received and seek additional seed funding to get needed certifications and regulatory approvals as well as an FDA registration.
“LIMBER is trying to scale across the U.S. and globally,” Pelz said. “There’s obviously a need in the cross-border communities, there’s a need in Mexico and everywhere in the world, but we are positioned well to help many different types of amputee populations right here in our backyard.”
All LIMBER devices are designed and manufactured on the UCSD campus in incubator space that is supported by the Office of Innovation and Commercialization Basement Accelerator. LIMBER also has received significant support from the UCSD Institute for the Global Entrepreneur, a collaboration between the Jacobs School of Engineering and the Rady School of Management.
CO-FOUNDERS: Joshua Pelz, Luca DeVivo
CMO: Herbert Barrack
CONTACT: 310-602-9091 or limberprosthetics.com/contact
SOCIAL IMPACT: LIMBER is passionate about changing the status quo where globally 9 out of 10 amputees don’t have access to quality prosthetic care.
NOTABLE: LIMBER was awarded “People’s Choice” at San Diego Angel Conference V.