Changing the world, one child at a time
The office which Samiya and Naveed Parvez often work in has been dubbed ‘the unreasonable room’: it’s a co-working space they share with other entrepreneurs tackling complex, far-reaching world problems – so big that your average, reasonable investor probably wouldn’t bet on them. However, there is nothing average about Andiamo, the startup founded by the couple: “Our ambition is simple: for every child to be able to move as they wish,” explains Naveed without a trace of irony. Thanks to a blend of technology and clinical data analysis, Andiamo has managed to transform the design and manufacturing of orthoses, the medical devices that assist disabled children in their movements. “For these children, orthotic devices are life-changing,” Samiya says. “They make the difference between a child in a wheelchair and one who can walk.”
An idea born out of grief
The spark came from painful personal experience. In 2003, after their son Diamo was born severely disabled, Samiya became a full-time carer. Diamo needed orthoses for his spine and legs to be able to sit and move. For 9 years, Diamo’s whole life, alongside managing her son’s daily needs Samiya would research the best equipment and services to make his life easier.
Creating custom orthoses for Diamo was an excruciating process, as each piece was individually handcrafted. Diamo found being measured particularly traumatic, as it involved him being pinned down and covered in wet plaster for a long time. “He would scream through the whole process,” Naveed recalls. The cast was then sent to manufacturers, who could take up to 6 months to deliver the handcrafted orthosis – by which time, Diamo would have outgrown it and the process would have to start again.
“A year after Diamo passed away, Naveed was at a conference where they were showing 3D printing in metal,” Samiya continues. Naveed questioned: could the same technology be used to manufacture orthoses? That’s when the idea for Andiamo was born. “We had needlessly suffered as a family. We wanted to make sure no family would ever have to experience that again.”
A radically new approach
Naveed’s intuition was to apply modern technologies like 3D scanning, 3D printing and machine learning to the design and manufacturing process of orthoses. Bringing this vision to life wasn’t easy: fully understanding the materials, processes and supply chain involved required time and resources. “It was a combination of grit, luck and the people who kept supporting us that pushed us through,” Samiya admits. After accidentally winning an office space as a part of a competition and being selected by startup accelerator Bethnal Green Ventures, Andiamo gained momentum. “We thought we were just two parents who had a good idea, but everyone else saw somebody who would stop at nothing to solve a real problem,” Naveed says. “We realised that we could turn the pain and grief we had been through into a solution.”
What is so revolutionary about the Andiamo approach? “It’s an end-to-end platform,” explains Naveed. The old, painful measurement process is replaced by a painless, faster and more accurate 3D scan that turns the data into a printable digital design. Once tested, the design is 3D printed, and the new orthosis is sent back to the clinic for fitting. The process only takes two weeks.
“Digitally designed orthoses are lighter and better fitting than the traditional handmade ones,” Samiya says. “With 3D printing we can manufacture multiple pieces at the same time, and make them as rigid or flexible as they need to be.” Finally, a feedback session allows the platform to learn how to better design orthoses for each patient, whereas, traditionally, a clinician would have no way of assessing if their design was optimal.
Technology for good
The procedure is complex, and it involves processing a large volume of sensitive data (approximately 1.5 Terabytes): Andiamo needed a powerful, safe infrastructure to handle it. They opted for Amazon Web Services (AWS): “It was a natural choice for us,” Naveed says. “AWS took care of many of our headaches around scalability, complexity and security. Services like AWS Lambda and S3 have helped us run some of our 3D automation software and securely store our data.” Andiamo also enrolled into AWS Activate, a programme designed to provide new startups with credits, training and support. “We received a lot of technical and financial help. We wouldn’t have been able to run our platform for our early years without AWS’s support.” Today, Andiamo’s platform has cut the time to turn 3D body data into a 3D printable file from weeks to an hour, “with real time design not too far away,” says Naveed proudly.
The company now employs 26 people in the UK and in Poland, and their motivation is stronger than ever. “Around one billion people globally require an assistive device. 115 million are children. Only 20% of those people can access or afford the services they need, and the problem is exacerbated by a shortage of clinicians around the world,” Naveed says. “Technology will enable us to deliver a personalised medical device service in any place with an internet connection and a 3D printer. Orthotics are only the beginning.”
The future looks busy for the duo. They have just opened their first clinic in the heart of London: “Every person in the company, no matter their role, must spend one day per month in the clinic,” Samiya says. “Having our own structure will help us learn and improve our services.” Andiamo is working with the NHS to better understand how to deliver their radically different medical approach in the best possible way. “Technology is not enough: to make the most of it, we also need to redesign how services are delivered,” she explains.
Naveed and Samiya have much to be proud of: “We have shown that, even when dealing with extremely difficult challenges, you can build a successful company by focusing on people’s needs. We have shown that doing the right thing can be the core of a business – one that has the power to change the world.”