Tokyo-based BionicM, the Japanese startup developing the Bio Leg robotic leg prosthesis, announced on Tuesday that it has 370 million yen (about $2.8 million) in a extended series A round. Participating investosr are NVenture Capital (a wholly owned subsidiary of NEC Capital Solutions), Shinsei Corporate Investment, University of Tokyo Innovation (UTokyo IPC), Kiraboshi Capital, Chibagin Capital, Yoshitsune Ido (former CEO, Anker Japan), AIS Partners, and Hao Yan (Representative Director, EPS Holdings).
This brought the startup’s funding sum in its entire series A round up to 920 million yen (over $7 million). Among the investors, UTokyo IPC follows their investment in the first close of the series A round back in September of 2020. They will use the funds to expand sales of the product, research and develop the next model, and elemental technologies such as motion sensing and motion assist technologies as well as hiring talents. In addition to their current markets of Japan and China, the company is looking to expand into the US.
Founded by Xiaojun Sun who himself had to have his right leg amputated at the age of 9 due to osteosarcoma, BionicM began research and development in 2015 at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Information Science and Technology. Of the 10 million potential users of prosthetic legs worldwide, only about 40% actually have access to them because they are expensive or have limited functionality. The company established a corporate entity in 2018 to commercialize the product in order to bring a high-performance prosthetic leg to all those who need it at an affordable price.
According to BionicM, more than 99% of the global prosthetic leg market deals with passive type, and has not benefited from the technological advancements that have taken place in recent years with the proliferation of robotic technology. Passive leg prostheses not only place a heavy physical burden on the user, but also place a mental burden on the user, as they are unable to walk naturally or take turns walking up and down stairs in both legs, making them uncomfortable to watch. Robotic prostheses have the potential to solve this problem.
Since the launch of the Bio Leg commercial version in Japan and China last year, the company has been offering the product via a B2B2C model where robotic leg modules are offered to artificial limb factories to be built into sockets for lower-limb amputees. We were told that a typical powered prosthetic leg costs over 10 million yen ($77,000) in contrast with a passive type for about 1 million yen ($7,700). Bio Leg is available for less than one-third the price of a powered one while adopting robotic technology.
Given the price tag, government subsidies are likely to be essential for the robotic leg to become widely available. The company is currently testing the product with the aim to apply for such a program next year. Although there are many prosthetic leg users in China, the market for high-end ones is apparently small due to a lack of public support. Therefore, the company is considering expanding into the US market with FDA approval in mind where there is a possibility of obtaining medical insurance coverage.
BionicM intends to explore new possibilities by taking advantage of the product’s ability to acquire gait data as well as its function as a robotic prosthesis. Although prosthetists and physical therapists who assist in the fitting and use of prosthetic limbs are professionals with specialized training, they often rely on their own expertise and knowledge. If the rehabilitation process can be visualized using data, communication with users will become easier and rehabilitation can be expected to become more efficient.