A Shakopee-based company has won the 2018 FAST-TRACK Challenge.
Medthera, Inc. was announced Oct. 25 as the winner of the challenge for the NeuroWalk, a walking-based therapy station. The Prior Lake-based companies ugo wear and Atkinson Artisan Foods won second and third place, respectively.
The Scott County First Stop Shop, an offshoot of the Community Development Agency, created the FAST-TRACK Challenge last year to help small businesses in the area survive, prosper and create jobs. The FAST-TRACK Challenge is a competition similar to the TV show “Shark Tank,” where entrepreneurs pitch business ideas to a panel of judges.
Medthera, Inc. will win $4,000 in startup funds, a free membership to Technology Village, the business accelerator in Prior Lake and other needed services such as those in legal, marketing and accounting.
“I thought (FAST-TRACK) would be a great opportunity to hone and develop the pitch and just to get in front of a group of people,” Medthera, Inc. President and CEO Alan Tholkes said. “It was a really good experience.”
Tholkes said he came up with the idea for NeuroWalk after realizing how difficult it was to get walking-based therapy.
“I just really felt that there’s a real need out there,” he said. “Once you stop walking ... you can have a lot of health problems. Everything starts to go downhill if you stop moving.”
Tholkes, who has been in a wheelchair since he was 17 years old, said he would drive two hours round-trip to do a 15-minute walking program with therapists — in addition to the hour spent getting in and out of the harness setup for the program.
“It just wasn’t practical,” Tholkes said. “There was no device out there that I can use in my home.”
Tholkes had experience in the medical technology industry after founding a company in the 1980s that produced wheelchairs and the EasyStand, a product to help those with disabilities stand up for health benefits. Tholkes sold the company in 2005 and founded Medthera, Inc. in 2013 to create NeuroWalk.
“I thought, ‘Well, how hard can this be?’” Tholkes said. “Turned out to be a little bit more difficult than we thought because it kept getting more complex, large and expensive. We finally feel really confident in the design we have now, very confident.”
When the product hits the market in February, it will be marketed to millions of people who use manual wheelchairs, canes, walkers, scooters or other assistive devices, Tholkes said.
To start the walking therapy, users get into the seat of NeuroWalk, which is about the height of a wheelchair seat. Users then strap themselves in and are elevated from a sitting to a standing position.
From there, a mechanism transitions the legs into a walking position and helps users move their legs in a walking motion. When done, users push a button to get back to a standing and then sitting position.
The NeuroWalk will collect various points of data for a physical therapist such as standing time, walking time, speed and resistance. The machine is able to support people who weigh up to 300 pounds and range in height from 4-foot-10 to 6-foot-5.
“Most people will put this in their living space, and they don’t have a lot of space,” Tholkes said. “That’s one of the things we really worked hard at, and making it look good as well. We’re trying to make it look as nice as we can to fit in with home decor without being too distracting.”
On Oct. 25, each of the five finalists for the FAST-TRACK Challenge had a few minutes to pitch an idea to a panel of judges. The finalists then had a 10-minute question session.
First Stop Shop Business Development Specialist Jo Foust said there was certain criteria for choosing the winner, including viability of the product, market potential, financial projections, potential for job creation and more.
“All of them were thought to be viable and successful products,” Foust said. “Unfortunately, we could only pick three winners.
“We’re hoping that, especially with Medthera, they have a final product ready to go to market in the next couple months and hope to see their success,” Foust said.
Those interested in competing in or providing services for the 2019 FAST-TRACK Challenge can find applications and more information at scottfss.org.