Funding / Health tech / Robotics / Startups

Baltimore-born NextStep Robotics gets investment from Maryland Momentum Fund

The company raised a total of $750,000 to continue development of its device to treat foot drop.

NextStep Robotics' Brad Hennessie speaking at BIW17. (Photo by Christopher Wink)

NextStep Robotics, a startup which makes a device to treat foot drop, closed on $750,000 in new funding, said CEO Brad Hennessie.
The Baltimore-based company is the second to receive investment from the Maryland Momentum Fund, which was created by the  University System of Maryland to back startups based on technology developed at the state schools. The Maryland Momentum Fund invested $250,000 in the company. The fund requires co-investors, and a group affiliated with Vancouver, Canada–based Fort Capital also contributed to the round.
The company makes a robotic device to treat foot drop syndrome, which limits a patient’s ability to lift a toe while walking. It is common in patients recovering from stroke, as well as those with diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.
The robotic device is designed as a training device that helps patients regain mobility, and can be used by staff at a physical therapy site rather than the specialist.
The robot and software can be adapted based on the severity of someone’s foot drop, which “allows us to know exactly where someone is in their gait cycle and what they are able to do on their own,” Hennessie said.

A comparison illustrates foot drop. (Courtesy photo)

A comparison illustrates foot drop. (Courtesy photo)

While the startup launched last year, the device has roots in the work of doctors at the Baltimore-based University of Maryland School of Medicine and the Baltimore Veterans Affairs Motor Performance Laboratory. Hennessie linked with the project through a past role at the VA’s Maryland Exercise Robotics Center of Excellence.

After completing Master’s degrees in health administration and business administration from UMUC, Hennessie decided to pursue the effort to bring it out of the lab, and “help as many patients as possible.” The commercialization effort soon received funding from TEDCO’s Maryland Innovation Initiative.
The founding team includes Richard Macko, a UMSOM professor and associate director at the Baltimore VA Medical Center Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center, Larry Forrester, the recently retired founding director of the Human Motor Performance Laboratory, and Andido Roy, who is chief robotics engineer at the Baltimore VA Medical Center and a professor at the university’s engineering and medicine schools.

The company is currently based at the Maryland Development Center on Pratt St., whose CEO Gil Blankenship is also a UMD professor. Work with engineers in that space “really the main reason why we were able to accelerate forward,” Hennessie said.
It’s also the second Maryland Momentum Fund investment for a Baltimore-based company. But like smart wood stove maker MF Fire, it has a connection to multiple campuses. Along with the fact that it was an area of strength for the university like robotics and medical devices, that connectivity made it attractive, said Maryland Momentum Fund Director David Wise.
“We are a university system and this touches a lot of the parts of the system,” Wise said.
Of course, the company’s prospects were also a reason. Hennessie said the funding will help the company complete the final commercial prototype of the device.
As the company plans it, the robot has a quicker path to market than some medical devices. That’s because it will be registered as an exercise device, allowing it to be sold without the more arduous process.

Companies: University System of Maryland / TEDCO

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