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Five Minutes with … Dr. Alejandro Mendoza García, co-founder of reFit Systems
reFit Systems focuses on the digitization and gamification of medical processes. The company developed reFit Gamo – a medical device that transforms physical therapy into a fun and motivating gaming experience for children with motor disabilities. The system combines motion-controlled video games with software technology that enables digital therapy monitoring, biofeedback, and automated medical analysis.
reFit Gamo is a business idea that was born out of research. Tell us how it all started?
Rehabilitation can be really difficult. I witnessed first-hand the struggles patients face while writing my PhD in a research project in collaboration with the German Heart Center and the TU Munich. For most patients, motivation soon fades and is frequently replaced with uncertainty of whether the rehabilitation exercises are correctly done and of whether they actually make a difference. These feelings are natural but frequently result in a slower recovery process.
Discussing this issue with my co-founder, Valetin, we conducted a research project aimed at helping motivate patients to exercise through video games leveraging sensor technology while at the same time monitoring their vital parameters.
Shortly thereafter we met Matthias Rüger, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon interested in finding solutions to help his patients’ rehabilitation. Matthias highlighted the plight of children who require ongoing physiotherapy, as well as the stress and difficulties that this brings to their families.
Matthias, Valentin and I decided at that point to help focus our efforts on helping these children. That is how reFit Systems was born.
You and your co-founder Valentin Koller are both research scientists. How did the Bavarian innovation ecosystem help you bring your idea to market?
Valentin and I reached out to UnternehmerTUM for support. We were able to join in numerous workshops and network with other startups. Eventually, with the support from the TU Munich we successfully applied for the EXIST grant given by the German Ministry of Economics. We also joined the BayStartup network. Additionally we participated in several accelerators such as the ESA BIC to further develop our tracking technology, the EIT Health Accelerator where we received support to obtain our medical certification, as well as the Insurtech Hub at Werk1 where we met very helpful mentors and investors.
At the moment we have our office at MTZ, which is a great startup location. At the MTZ, every walk down the hallway, visit to the coffee shop or stroll at the terrace is an opportunity to meet diverse entrepreneurs with whom to exchange ideas and obtain different perspectives.
reFit Gamo first digital therapy system developed for pediatric rehabilitation – a good example of cross-industry innovation. What are the challenges you encounter in bringing a digital system to the world of physiotherapy?
The regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles to bring medical products into the market are incredibly challenging. Regulations and requirements to certify medical products are cumbersome and complex. While we were able to successfully certify our first product, ongoing compliance requirements remain massive. Further, we will also need to ensure that public and private insurers cover the cost for the treatment. On these topics, we have been very fortunate to have had the support of Medical Valley, a network for digital health innovation, and the experts of the Know-How-Transfer e.V.
Another challenge was the lack of digitalization in physiotherapy which led to a fear that our product aimed at replacing physiotherapists. However, the use of technology and digital solutions during the pandemic went a long way to ease these concerns. Now therapists appreciate that Gamo supports the therapy and provides them with flexibility. So far, the feedback we have received from therapists using the system has been overwhelmingly positive.
You are still closely affiliated to TU Munich and continue to work as a researcher. How does this fuel your business?
We continue our close collaboration with universities in Munich. With the funding of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), we are creating a library specialized in body tracking for children with disabilities together with the chair of Robotics and Embedded Systems at TUM (Prof. Alois Knoll) and with the center for pediatric neurology, neuro-rehabilitation at Schön Kliniken in Vogtareuth (Prof. Steffen Berweck). With funding from the Bavarian Ministry of Economics, we are working together with the Children’s Clinic of the LMU (Haunersches Kinderspital, Dr. Sebastian Schröder), in a project to bring reFit Gamo from the clinic into patients’ homes. These publicly funded research projects in collaboration with universities in Munich enable us to focus on the innovativeness of our solution and have certainly become a competitive advantage.
Further, several aspects of our product have been developed or improved as part of master's thesis written by outstanding students and many of our current collaborators are graduates from universities in Munich.
As a therapy system developed for pediatric rehabilitation, insurance companies are important partners. How have platforms like DIA Munich helped you build connections? And how can these platforms help you scale your business abroad?
We were fortunate to have been recognized as one of the most promising digital startups at the DIA Munich, providing us with increased visibility within the insurance sector.
For reFit, as well as for other manufacturers of medical software, reimbursability of our product by health insurers is key to our growth. While this is still a quite complex and long process, the interest from the insurance sector is continuously increasing and there are opportunities available today that can make it a reality for startups to achieve what in the past would have only been possible for traditional, established companies.
Today, reFit has the only certified medical device in the market focused on helping children with motor disabilities do their physical therapy. Our system is currently used in several specialized clinics throughout Germany. While working together to grow our network of partner clinics, we are developing the home solution that will enable children to continue playing their therapy at home. In a not too distant future, we hope that this will be possible using mobile devices.
It is difficult to imagine getting where we are today without the support of the different accelerators, networks, platforms, universities and public funding sources in Bavaria and Germany. We have worked very hard to get where we are, but we also know that we have been incredibly lucky to have started our journey in Munich.
Your company designs video games for therapeutic purposes. Do you enjoy video gaming yourself?
I like gaming as well but I enjoy the creation process of our solution much more as it requires the interaction of game designers, software engineers, therapists and doctors. However, there are some very serious gamers in our team and discussing video games for us is quite serious business. Before the pandemic, we had a gaming day every Friday where we tested our system and had a lot of fun. I am looking forward to coming back to the office and seeing if I can finally win a match!
reFit Systems GmbH
Digital rehabilitation systems for children
In Bavaria since
Department represented in Bavaria