This content is provided in partnership with Tokyo-based startup podcast Disrupting Japan. Please enjoy the podcast and the full transcript of this interview on Disrupting Japan's website!
Startups solve real problems.
During the boom times, the media focuses on the multi-billion-dollar valuations and the mega-IPOs. But even in those times, founders are innovating in the background and using technology to just make the world a better place.
Today we talk with Sun Xiaojun, who started BionicM in 2015 as a way to replace the limb that he lost when he was a child. And since then, he has built the startup into much more.
We talk about the challenges he had to overcome to bring innovative medical technology to market, why Japanese universities still struggle to productize their impressive deep-tech, and why the world has been thinking about prosthetic limbs all wrong for thousands of years.
It’s a great conversation, and I think you’ll enjoy it.
To listen to this podcast, please click here.
Welcome to Disrupting Japan. Straight Talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.
I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.
Today we’re going to talk about bionic legs, the real deal, a battery powered below the knee powered prosthetic leg that is already being used by amputees all over the world, and it looks pretty good too.
We’re going to sit down with Xiaojun Sun or Sunny, as he likes to be called. The founder, and CEO of BionicM who lost his leg when he was nine and spent the next 15 years determined to do something about that, and he did. BionicM is a Japanese startup creating artificial limbs that are not just functional or practical or good enough, but are different and innovative and well, to be honest, kind of cool.
We’re going to talk a lot about Sunny’s journey and the BionicM prosthetic leg, but we also talk about why it’s easier to launch this kind of product in America, despite the stricter certification requirements. The challenges in figuring out who the actual customers for artificial limbs really are and why Japanese universities have so much trouble getting their deep tech startups out of the labs and into the market.
But, you know, Sunny tells that story much better than I can. So, let’s get right to the interview.
Tim: We’re sitting here with Sunny Xoajun, the founder and CEO of BionicM who makes a robotic prosthetic leg, and thanks for sitting down with us.
Sunny: Ah, thank you. I’m very glad to be here.
Tim: So, I’ve given a brief description of what you do, but I’m sure you can explain what BionicM does much better than I can. So, what does BionicM do?
Sunny: Yeah, we are a startup company, spin of the Tokyo University. We are building a powered prosthetic leg to have the handicap improve their mobility.
Tim: Why is the powered prosthetic leg important? What’s the important part of having the active?
Sunny: Currently, most of the prosthetic is unpowered. We’re developing something different from the current products which has a power to have user walk more easily. Perhaps do something which they couldn’t do with current products.
Tim: It’s battery powered electric motors. What does this leg do for users that passive prosthetic legs cannot do?
Sunny: For example, it’s very difficult for some elderly amputee to stand up because when they stand up with the passive prosthetic, there is low power to help them, so they have to rely on their sound leg. If their sound leg doesn’t work very well, it’s difficult for them to stand up.
Tim: Okay. So, the power in the BionicM leg duplicates the muscle power that is in a regular human leg for things like standing up from chairs or going up and down stairs and things like that.
Sunny: Yeah, you’re right. It works like a muscle. So, it will give a power to have user do something. For example, when they use it to stand up, they can get the power from the prosthetic. So, it’s easier for the user to stand up, of course they can do something like going upstairs or downstairs.
Tim: Okay. And I want to really dig into the details later, but it’s fascinating. So, it’s battery powered and so how long does it last on the charge? Is it charged like once a day? The user uses it all day.
Sunny: It can be charged fully for three or four hours. So, it can last for one day.
Tim: Oh, okay. So, users just charge it overnight?
Sunny: Yeah, yeah. Right.
Tim: And how much does it weigh?
Sunny: It’s about three kilogram.
Tim: Three kilos? Yeah. Oh, that seems quite light.
(Continued on Disrupting Japan)
[ This content is provided in partnership with Tokyo-based startup podcast Disrupting Japan. Please enjoy the podcast and the full transcript of this interview on Disrupting Japan's website! ]