Public safety / Wellness

Element Exo wants to save laborers pain and hospital bills with its exoskeleton

Tim Pote said that the exoskeleton is designed to make bending and lifting easier while preventing pain and injuries in the long-term.

The exoskeleton in action (Courtesy photo)

Before Element Exo was a company and prior to even its previous incarnation as Maroon Assistive Technologies, there was just Tim Pote. At this time, Pote was doing systems and operations work in the government contracting field. It wasn’t something he felt passionate about, beyond that he’d always wanted a way to use his engineering skills to help his younger brother who was paralyzed from the waist down. He wasn’t sure how to make that happen until he found himself working on back-supporting exoskeletons at Virginia Tech in the assistive robotics lab.

“While I was there, Lowe’s Home Improvement approached our lab and basically said, ‘Hey, we have a problem with back injuries, is there anything you can do for us?’” Pote recalled. “So we worked for a number of months with Lowe’s with their employees to determine what they were lifting, how they were moving, and we came up with an exoskeleton that was three times stronger than anything on the market.”

The now-patented lower back assistive exoskeleton caught on and soon after Lowe’s featured the product in a press release, a number of companies were interested in purchasing it. Still, Pote recalled, with that incarnation of the exoskeleton being just a prototype, they weren’t yet able to sell it. The company’s CEO and Cofounder, Pote explained the company was formed to refine the product into something that could be sold in a commercial space. Why did the company go from Maroon Assistive Technologies to Element Exo? According to Pote, it’s because the founders wanted people to have a better understanding of who the exoskeleton was for.

“[The word] ‘assistive’ carries certain connotations — that it’s technology that’s meant to help those with disabilities, or maybe it’s there to help elderly people — so it wasn’t necessarily resonating with our customer base,” Pote said. “We wanted to make sure that the first name that they had an interaction with would be more representative of the company.”

Pote said Element Exo’s typical customers are companies that wanted the product for their employees. He added that laborers in a variety of fields — from doctors to the US Military, where workers repetitively lift, bend and carry — could benefit from the product.

Since its founding in 2018, Element Exo has participated in Innovation Works’ 2022 Portfolio Showcase as a part of AlphaLabs. Due to its participation in the program, it received seed funding from Innovation Works and AlphaLabs for an undisclosed amount. Additionally, according to an SEC filing, the company raised $400,000 in debt financing in a funding round that took place in early January 2023. A significant step for the company in 2023, Pote said, is its participation in PGH Labs 8.0 cohort, a city-run accelerator program, which provides the opportunity to get real-time feedback from city workers.

“Our product goes directly on the backs of individuals,” Pote said. “And so we were looking at where we could have the most impact [and] we really felt that there were a lot of different city jobs where the women and men of Pittsburgh are doing a lot of physical lifting. That’s exactly what our exoskeleton helps with.”

What’s one thing that is important to know about the exoskeleton? Simply, Pote said, that it’ll literally take some of the weight off your shoulders when you’re bending and lifting.

“We really want to make sure that for our customers, they’re going to get value out of the product,” Pote said. “And the easiest way we found for them to do that is to test the exoskeleton in their space with their employees to make sure it’s the right fit for their process.”

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: AlphaLab Gear / Innovation Works (Pittsburgh)

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