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17.01.2014
ReHaptix voted joint winner of Venture 2014 prize


With their start-up company ReHaptix, French Canadian Marie-Christine Fluet and Sophie Winkler Payot of Lausanne came joint first, along with another company*, in the Venture 2014 Prize presented at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) on Wednesday. They were one of as many as 239 teams of young entrepreneurs who competed for the prize, awarded jointly by the ETH, the Knecht Holding transport company, the McKinsey & Company management consultants and the Swiss Federal Commission for Technology and Innovation.
 
The two 35-year-olds complement each other perfectly in their new venture as Fluet (on the right in the photograph) studied electronic engineering in Montreal prior to writing a doctoral thesis in neuro-sciences at the University of Zurich. Her special subject was control of the hand by the cerebum. Winkler-Payot studied finance at the HSG in St Gallen and worked for several years as an investment banker in London and Amsterdam.
 
They came together by chance through mutual friends. Winkler-Payot (on the left) was looking to help in a more social way and Fluet wanted initially to become an occupational therapist in Canada. However her great interest in mathematics and physics led her to study further, writing her doctoral thesis about apes. Now she is using what she learned to help people rehabilitate after illness.
 
She has developed a tennis-ball sized sphere attached to a robotic arm. This is then connected to a lap-top with special software she developed herself, enabling her to measure the motor activity in the arm, strength in the hand as well as coordination. This is most useful in helping patients with multiple sclerosis or those who have suffered a stroke.
 
At present, patients do physical tests to see if they can insert small pieces of wood into a series of 9 holes. With Winkler-Fluet's new invention, patients use the sphere to try and do the same but in a digitalised way on screen. The advantage here is that the strength of the hand, motor activity of the arm, ability to coordinate, and any trembling can be measured in a more precise way.
 
With Fluet's ability to put robotic parts together, not to mention programme software and her knowledge of the brain, all coupled with Winkler-Payot's flair with finance and business, the two, who speak English and German as well as their native French, are a team many employees can only dream of.
 
So far their ReHaptix company has produced a number of items of equipment for clinical tests in Belgium, Canada, Bern and Zurich. One challenge they still have to overcome is to persuade more physiotherapists to work through a computer rather than with their hands.
 
One major positive point is that they feel Zurich, with its large number of young companies working on rehabilitation equipment, is an ideal place to work from.
 
*The other winning company was CashSentinel, run by Julie Garg and Sylvain Bertolus of the Haute Ecole d'Ingénierie et de Gestion in the canton of Vaud. They developed software to enable greater financial transactions (over CHF 3,000) to be transmitted by smartphone in a secure way.
 
 


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