Isabella Hillmer and Laura Bücheler of Ghost
Last December, the startup business Ghost was the winner of the “Smart Wearables x Smart Textiles” award with a total prize money of 10,000 Euro. This founder award is an initiative by the Senate Department for Economics, Energy and Public Enterprises to support founders of new enterprises. The contribution to the competition was a glove-like wearable for arm amputees or patients who have lost sensation in their arm due to damage to the nerves. The wearable allows the ability to regain tactile and temperature sense. The team consists of Isabella Hillmer, who has experience in the field of psychology and industrial design, and Laura Bücheler, who has a background in biomedical engineering. The special strength of this young start-up company is their shared expertise and their long friendship.
You are the winner of the Smart Wearables X Smart Textiles Award. What opportunities does this entail for GHOST – feel it. and your work in the future?
The prize money we received for the award has made our work a lot easier in the development phase where we are now. So we have more resources now that we can invest in the product development and protective rights. However, what is even more important is that it has significantly boosted our motivation. All the minor and major achievements on the way encourage us to summon up the energies, and we feel encouraged that we are on the right path.
You have further developed your business model within the scope of a customized workshop. What exactly have you been able to develop further or to improve?
Starting from the general idea, we have developed a convincing product and business concept for an accessible and clearly defined user group. As the topic requires intensive research, it was particularly important to take a closer look at the market and to analyse it thoroughly. In this context, we have set out clearly our advantages over the competition. These steps have really brought us a long way and have helped the project to progress quickly. Therefore, we can now start to prepare product verification for the market launch.
Can you give us a short introduction into your business and the idea behind your slogan ‘GHOST – feel it.’?
We enable users of a smart glove to be able again to feel the hand underneath it. Initially, this is will be used for hands with nerve damage in the wrist area. The second step will be to use the gloves also for prosthetic hands. Our vision is to make data and technology tangible in order to really make them meet the user’s needs in the best possible way.
You have developed an orthosis that allows the ability to regain tactile and temperature sense. How exactly does that work?
We take advantage of the fact that the human brain is constantly changing and evolving and it never stops re-wiring. Medical specialists call this neuroplasticity. Using the glove, we want to direct new connections in the brain purposefully, thus reprogramming part of the brain. This would allow patients to feel the hand they have lost or received with nerve damage, while wearing the glove.
What are the specific benefits for the patients? For example, you promise a reduction in costs for physiotherapy and rehabilitation…
Depending on the business model, we have to look at the customer and the user of the product and their individual benefits separately. The advantages for the users are many, as the glove will enable them to become more independent and to reintegrate into their work and social life. When we sell the product to a user by means of a Business-to-Customer approach, the user becomes a customer, too, and will have the same benefits. In Germany and other countries with a well-developed health system, the alternative route is to use a Business-to-Business approach. This approach involves making the product available to the user and have it funded by the health insurance schemes. Thus, the health insurance will be our customer. The glove will make the patient’s reintegration into their former life easier; it will reduce the risk of second injuries and decrease or even eliminate phantom limb pains. This creates an economic incentive for the health insurance to fund this product. Moreover, this also results in cost savings for physiotherapy.
You have just launched your project … What is exactly your plan for the coming months?
The next step is a verification phase. This will also include a clinical trial, which we will be conducting at Munich Technical University in cooperation with various hospitals. At the same time, we will be dealing with patent issues. Prior to the market launch, we need to obtain certification for medical products.
The products you have developed will make the life of many patients easier. Have you already found partners from the medical sector to cooperate with?
We are working with partners across a wide range of sectors, for example physiotherapists, orthopaedists and trauma surgeons specialized in hand surgery. As a member of the MedInnovates Hub and holder of the chair for “Computer Aided Medical Procedures” we furthermore have access to a large network of hospitals and research resources provided by Munich Technical University.
What makes your team so unique – apart from your business idea?
We have been friends for more than fifteen years now, and when we were only sixteen years old, we took our first entrepreneurial role as a team. After living in different countries for most of the time during the last five years and studying different subjects, we have now acquired profound knowledge in the fields of medical engineering, neuropsychology, project management and industrial design. We do not only complement one another, but also understand the other’s strengths and weaknesses.
You established the company in Berlin – is it in your opinion still a city full of opportunities for entrepreneurs? Or did you actually have completely different reasons to settle in the city …?
No doubt, Berlin still offers a very creative environment. It was very important for us from the outset to choose an attractive place to live and work – because after all, you are going to be tied to one particular place for a longer period, especially with a project of this scale. All the various influences and impressions are very beneficial for brainstorming and working with innovative projects. In addition, the start-up scene is big and lively, and there are many funding opportunities. We were fortunate enough to fall back on good connections to the growing start-up network in Munich. But the vibe of Berlin as a city is truly special.
Last, but not least, can you finish the following sentence: “Berlin is… “
…a place where it is equally normal to spend your Sunday mornings partying in a club, shopping at the supermarket or working at the office.