Student startup helping ALS patients

Imagine not being able to do everyday tasks due to a weakness or paralysis in your arms and hands. Vilje Bionics, a startup from NTNU school of Entrepreneurship, intends to develop an aid for ALS patients to help them with this.

By Tina Larsen

Vilje Bionics is a startup from NTNU school of Entrepreneurship (NSE). They are developing an aid for ALS patients – a motorized exoskeleton to help people move their arms and hands. The exoskeleton will increase the independence of ALS patients as it allows patients to move their elbow, shoulder, wrist and hand. This can give them a higher quality of life and a sense of mastery in their daily activities. Recently, they were granted support of 2 million NOK from the DAM foundation and 1 million NOK from the Norwegian Research Council’s STUD-ENT program.

The user in focus

Unlike its competitors, which is mainly technology focused, Vilje Bionics has a strong focus on the user perspective. They have conducted 13 in-depth interviews with ALS patients, with approval from health authorities, to research what patients might consider using such a tool aid for. Further, they want to conduct user tests with ALS patients. This will give them valuable data to develop a good product. The challenge is that the technology must be adaptable to the needs of different people. There are large individual differences between patients.

“We work with interesting issues related to the interaction or control of the aid, where we need to find a solution to how we can give the patient exactly what he or she needs, and no more. There is a great need for the product, but we have also seen a great challenge related to “technology acceptance”. Although the patient may benefit from using an aid, he or she may choose not to do so due to little ease of use, stigma or appearance.”

Saeid Hosseini, CEO at Vilje Bionics

In addition, they want to connect with the professional environment in health and medicine so that they can create the best possible product. When the product or aid for ALS patients is completed, they will use the knowledge they have gained to help other patient groups, such as stroke patients, people with spinal cord injuries or other neuromuscular diseases.

The entrepreneurial ecosystem at NTNU

The startup, which was started by students from the NTNU school of Entrepreneurship (NSE), has been part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem at NTNU. Hosseini says it has been very important to have a large network of skilled entrepreneurs around. They also got valuable help from NSE to get started. Among other things, they received help with intellectual property (IP) strategy, orderly cooperation with the IP-owners associated with the project, legal and strategic help, and with market entry and financing strategy. Access to labs, equipment and other facilities has also been important.

In addition, it has been valuable for the startup to get connected to the professional environment in technology at NTNU to be updated on directions and initiatives in the field of research. Innovation in health can be difficult, as it often is rigid, but they have received good help and support from the professional health environments, both from NTNU and St. Olavs hospital.

Vilje Bionics

Founded in march 2021 by NTNU students Saeid Hosseini (NSE), Asmund Kollbye (Mechanical Engineering) and Eirik Bodsberg (Mechanical Engineering) and inventors of the exoskeleton “MotOrtose”, Professor Terje Kristoffer Lien and Associate Professor Tore Meisingset and engineer and ALS-patient Mangor Lien. 

Read more about the startup at their homepage.