The idea behind the startup company Neofect goes back to 2010, when Scott Kim and Hoyoung Ban were attending graduate school at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.
“We took a class together, and we would walk together after class,” Kim recalled. “Every time I talked with him, he had a lot of [business] ideas that he would bounce off of me.”
There were lots of ideas for new inventions. One was for a new type of car wash machine. Another was for a new type of baseball pitching machine.
Some ideas were impractical or “were too expensive,” Kim said, but one idea stuck. It had to do with using games to help people who have suffered loss of hand and arm function due to a stroke or injury regain some of their dexterity.
“The first thing that came to my mind was when I was growing up,” said Kim, who grew up in Seoul. “I was born with spina bifida. It was a mild case, but I had to have a surgery and then I had to go through rehabilitation.”
The idea was to develop a “smart glove” that people recovering from a stroke or injury could wear, which would be linked wirelessly to a computer with various games that would help them practice hand and arm motions.
“This idea struck us both as a good one,” Kim said. “It was one of the ideas we just kept talking about.”
That idea was the seed of Neofect, a company founded by Kim, Ban and a third friend.
Neofect now offers its smart glove device as well as other tools such as its smart pegboard to help with hand and arm rehabilitation.
The company, which has offices in South Korea and San Francisco, recently set up a sales and order fulfillment office in Chesterfield County, its first East Coast location.
It took a long time for the startup to get to this point. In 2010, the co-founders had little money to put into their project, Kim recalls. A $150,000 grant from the South Korean government helped with research and development, but it wasn’t enough to get a product to market.
For several years, the company got sidetracked on what it hoped would be a profitable venture in making smart phone games. Kim, who had worked in consulting before going to graduate school, planned to lead U.S. operations for Neofect but had to get another job to maintain his U.S. visa.
“There were many growth pains” for the startup business, Kim said.
Finally, by 2014, the company was able to move back to its original mission of making rehabilitation devices.
“Once we did that, good things started happening,” Kim said.
“We wanted to make a device for home patients that is lightweight, portable and affordable,” he said. “This is still our mission.”
On a recent visit to the company’s office in the Boulders office park, Kim demonstrated the smart glove, a flexible exoskeleton-like device that slides onto the hand. It is linked by Bluetooth to a computer tablet with a selection of 45 games the company designed that require various sorts of hand motions.
In a simple “squeeze the orange” game, the user must squeeze their fingers until an animated orange that appears on screen empties its juice into a glass. A game of blackjack lets the user practice hand motions that involve turning the wrist, as playing cards flip on screen.
The goal is to make the repetitive motions of rehabilitation more interesting with a clear objective in mind. The company’s software can track progress.
Neofect is offering its smart glove device to both rehabilitation clinics as well as individuals who want to use it at home. The cost for home users is $99 per month on a 24-month installment plan.
Nearly 795,000 people in the U.S. suffer strokes each year. Kim said he hopes the Neofect tool can become one way to provide better home rehabilitation.
“If you are living in a small town somewhere, you may not be able to access as much rehab,” he said.
“Health care is one major area where we can make things better,” he said. “Making more affordable devices and making it more accessible is one small thing I can do.”