From engineer to entrepreneur: interview with Ben Lakey, co-founder of Mitt Wearables

19 Jul 2019

Nate and Ben from Mitt Wearables

(L-R) Nate Macabuag and Ben Lakey of Mitt Wearables

Tell us about Mitt Wearables

Over the last two years we’ve been developing a new type of upper limb prosthetic. Instead of a heavy and rigid socket, we designed a comfortable, flexible and adjustable socket. Our prostheses can be fitted by the users themselves in seconds, instead of taking much longer with a medical clinician. We’ve created a growing range of simple to use and interchangeable tools – each specific to people’s desired task. This makes the devices customisable, much lighter, easier to use and brings the cost right down.

How did you get the idea for the product?

The original design for Mitt’s prosthetic limb was prototyped by Nate (Co-founder of Mitt Wearables) and his third-year mechanical engineering project partners at Imperial College London. The group was determined to build an Iron Man style robotic hand, but when they tested that device with our good friend, Alex Lewis, a father, designer and quadruple amputee, he stated that this wasn’t what he wanted. He didn’t need complex electronics that make it heavy, difficult to use and expensive – he said make it affordable, comfortable and easy to use. To this day, we base our designs off Alex’s, and all our inspiring trial users’, feedback to keep the product simple and accessible.

Why did you apply to the Enterprise Fellowship Programme?

My classmate found the application and sent it over to me. The programme advertised everything we needed– mentoring, funding, a strong network of like-minded entrepreneurs and multi-disciplinary workshops. We were engineers without experience in the business aspects of a startup so we were keen to surround ourselves with those that did!

How has the Enterprise Fellowship programme benefitted you?

There are world class workshops hosted by the Enterprise Hub for things such as sales, marketing, pitching – we attend as many as possible. We try to divide them up with our other employees and interns as well, so everyone gains the skills to increase their productivity or even add a new proficiency to their skillset. I found the finances workshop particularly useful. All the aspects around valuation, cash flow projections and financial forecasting made our fundraising go a lot smoother because I was then an engineer with enough business knowledge to justify Mitt’s worth and future plans.

The most important thing that the Enterprise Fellowship has provided me is the ability to pursue this dream in the UK. My student visa ended after my MRes finished and as an international applicant, the Enterprise Hub was able to support my application for a five-year visa.

What advice would you give to potential applicants?

What helped me most was getting outside the research lab and office and meeting as many entrepreneurs, researchers, advisors, as I possibly could. The tips Mitt received on its business model, IP strategy, sales and marketing plan, all contributed directly into the application. Two incredible individuals provided references for the application as well – so start reaching out early and get as many expert eyes reading over the application as you can!

What tips would you give for other entrepreneurial engineers?

Embed yourself in the startup ecosystem. I’ve met so many incredible individuals who’ve made all the difference to where Mitt is today. I know how nerve-wracking it can be to enter a room of successful founders and investors but the sooner you start those conversations, and build your confidence, the stronger your chances will be of getting your idea off the ground.

 What does the future hold for Mitt?Mitt Wearables logo

We’ve just hired a design engineer and are currently interviewing for a business development manager. We are blessed with a terrific supporting cast of interns as well. It’s so exciting to have the team coming together and seeing a positive and ambitious company culture being developed. The Enterprise Hub provided essential training on how to interview and the legalities around hiring, as this is a learning experience as well.

Our vision is to create a global product that is accessible to everyone that needs prostheses. To start with, we will be testing the market with a beta product sales launch before the end of the year after being medically approved and then scaling up our manufacturing capabilities and community reach in 2020.  

Would you like to follow Ben’s footsteps? 

With up to £60,000 equity-free funding, mentoring and training opportunities available, we can help you take your innovation to market just like we helped Ben. Our Enterprise Fellowship programme is now open for applications. Apply by 19 August 2019, 4pm: https://enterprisehub.raeng.org.uk/programmes/enterprise-fellowships/

Mitt Wearables are also looking for volunteers for a test drive on their prostheses, to inform their future designs. If this interests you or you know anyone who could help, please sign up here or share this link: https://www.wearmitt.com/signup

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