Skolkovo resident ExoAtlet, the inventor of rehabilitation exoskeletons that help disabled people to walk again, has set its sights for expansion on Japan, where it is setting up a joint venture with its South Korean partners and investors.
Dennis Ahn, CEO of Cosmo, and ExoAtlet’s Ekaterina Bereziy hold up the signed agreements. Photo: Sk.ru.
ExoAtlet’s CEO Ekaterina Bereziy signed an agreement at the Skolkovo Technopark on Monday on the establishment of the joint venture together with Dennis Ahn, CEO of Cosmo & Company, Inc., which has previously invested more than $1 million in ExoAtlet.
“Under the terms of the agreement, we are setting up the company on equal terms,” Bereziy told Sk.ru at the signing of the agreement.
“Our Korean colleagues will be responsible for management, marketing and obtaining certification on the Japanese market, and we will provide the product, servicing and training programmes,” she said.
Cosmo & Company, Inc., a Tokyo-based part of GS Group, a major South Korean business group, invested $1.2 million earlier this year in ExoAtlet Asia, which was set up to promote ExoAtlet’s exoskeletons in the region.
“ExoAtlet Russia has a very technically sophisticated and unique product,” Ahn told Sk.ru.
“Our chairman [Kyung Soo Heo] is a shareholder of ExoAtlet Asia. But now we want to start a business in Japan,” he said, explaining that Japan had been chosen because it is a technology powerhouse, especially in robotics.
“That’s why we chose it as the first step of globalization for the joint venture between ExoAtlet and Cosmo,” said Ahn, the former president of LG Electronics in Russia.
“Next will be China: the population of 1.4 billion is waiting for us,” he added.
Ahn and Cosmo chairman Kyung Soo Heo pictured in the Skolkovo Technopark after the signing ceremony with Bereziy and ExoAtlet co-founder Mikhail Krundyshev. Photo: Sk.ru.
Cosmo & Company, Inc. already has extensive experience of working in Japan, as it has several companies there.
“It goes without saying that entering the Japanese market with a partner who is already present on that market is strategically more effective than doing it ourselves,” said Bereziy, who won a Made in Russia award for the exoskeletons last week.
“Exoskeletons are a brand new trend, and it’s not easy to find a partner who knows about this field. It’s a big task to find a partner who understands how to work with the equipment, how to work with clinics and develop this new trend in rehabilitation. If that partner raises investment and is prepared to develop new markets, then that’s just fantastic,” she added.
Ahn said that Cosmo aims to set up the new venture in Tokyo by the end of this year, and start applying for official certification of the exoskeletons early next year. The process of obtaining certification could take between eight months and a year, he said.
ExoAtlet obtained certification to sell its exoskeletons in South Korea in May this year, having registered ExoAtlet Asia there last October. Clinical trials of the exoskeletons are already underway there, as well as in Russia.
The ExoAtlet enables people who have lost the use of their legs to stand up, sit down, walk and go up and down stairs without assistance. In addition to helping people recover their mobility, regular training in an exoskeleton has been shown to improve the patient’s muscle tone and a range of other heath factors, as well as their self-confidence and overall wellbeing.
Bereziy won the science and technology prize at the Made in Russia awards last week. Photo: Sk.ru
In Japan, the company will face a direct competitor for its rehabilitation exoskeletons: Cyberdyne’s HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb). But both ExoAtlet and its Korean partners are confident that their product has competitive advantages. ExoAtlet is a mechanical system, in which the system automatically moves the wearer’s limbs (the wearer can regulate the step length and height and other factors using the ExoAtlet’s control system). HAL works by attaching detectors to the wearer’s skin that intercept bio-electric signals sent to the brain, allowing the system to react accordingly.
“It has sensors that are put on the skin and get a signal from the muscle, and it doesn’t work with people who can’t control their muscles, that’s the problem, so with paraplegia it doesn’t work,” said Bereziy, adding that ExoAtlet has already met with Japanese doctors, who expressed keen interest in its system.
In addition, ExoAtlet is a third of the price of HAL, and can easily be used at home, said Bereziy.
“It’s a big challenge for Russian robotics to compete in Japan, and we’re proud that we found partners in Korea who believe in us as much as we believe in our product,” she said.
ExoAtlet is one of the Skolkovo Foundation’s flagship companies, said Kirill Kaem, Skolkovo’s senior vice president for innovations, who presented the foundation ahead of the signing to the South Korean delegation, which also included Cosmo & Company chairman Kyung Soo Heo and ExoAtlet Asia director Oh Joo Young.
Skolkovo has provided ExoAtlet with valuable support in intellectual property rights, PR and government relations support, as well as financial grants, Bereziy told the company’s Korean investors.
In addition to the $1.2 million invested by Cosmo in ExoAtlet Asia to develop the product on Asian markets, including China, the South Korean government invested $800,000 to develop the company there earlier this year.