If e-bikes make getting around easier, why shouldn't it be possible to apply the same principle to walking frames? That's exactly the question that three young company founders from Stuttgart asked, which led to the development of an electric walking frame called ello. This new walking frame allows users to cope with gradients and kerbs easily and without too much effort. The first small series has already sold out, and the inventors have set up a crowdfunding campaign on the "Seedmatch" platform with the aim of finding investors to back the first mass production of the electric walking frame, which will commence in April.
Benjamin Rudolph, Max Keßler and Matthias Geertsema are hoping to motivate as many investors as possible to invest money in a product that, as they put it, they would prefer not to be seen with, and which people never buy voluntarily, because there are few products that symbolise old age quite like a walking frame does. However, the three founders are not looking for investors to help produce traditional walking frames. Instead, they are looking for investors for ello, an electric walking frame based on standard walking frames that the trio has developed over the past few years. In contrast to non-electric walking frames, ello takes much less effort to push uphill, over kerbs, up steps, onto buses as well as making it easier to carry shopping.
Keßler, an engineer, got the idea of building this kind of walking frame a few years ago when he was talking to a friend. The friend’s grandmother, who lives in the Swabian Alb region of southern Germany, was finding it increasingly difficult to cope with daily errands, let alone going out for a walk and to social events. He did not see why what works for e-bikes that assist users to pedal uphill with minimal effort, should not be possible for walking frames. As part of his diploma thesis at the University of Stuttgart, Keßler then went on to build an electric walking frame.
Not long after, Benjamin Rudolph (MBA) and Matthias Geertsema (another engineer) joined the project. In 2014, the three students founded the start-up company eMovements and developed ello, an electric walking frame. "Over the past few years, we built many prototypes, including at least five full-fledged prototypes until we finally had a market-ready model in late 2017. We built ello in a small series and placed it on the market to find out how well it would do," says Rudolph. And it did exceedingly well: the complete pre-series has already sold out - despite the elevated price tag of 2,890 euros. "So far all the feedback has been positive," says Rudolph. "We've since further developed the walking frame quite a bit. Originally, we started off with a walking frame with a tray and joystick, but this was very complicated to manufacture and not that practical. We now believe that the present version has very high customer value, and it is currently difficult to see what could be further optimised.” The three company founders have already received numerous awards for their company and for the electric walking frame ello, including the 2017 Arrow Innovators Award.
The young engineers did not have to “reinvent the walking frame” for the ello. They simply equipped a conventional walking frame with electrical components, appropriate sensors and smooth-running drives. This allows the user to move the walking frame uphill and downhill in a very simple and effortless manner: "Ello always moves at walking speed regardless of the terrain and can be regulated with nine speed levels," explains Rudolph. "But you have to make a deliberate effort to adjust the speed levels. The electric walking frame stops immediately when the user removes his or her thumb from the thumb sensor and immediately blocks when ello starts to roll away - for example, when a fall is imminent. When the user is walking downhill, an automatic brake slows the speed, so that the user does not have to brake him-/herself, which gives a feeling of safety.” Small obstacles such as kerbs, stairs or steps in a bus can be overcome much more easily with the electric drive and a special tilt function.
Lights are another useful feature of the electric walking frame, enabling users to be seen and recognised by other road users in the dark. In addition, the walking frame comes with an integrated SOS system to alert relatives or a nursing service in an emergency. The developers of ello were keen to ensure that it is simple and intuitive to use, and its very large buttons are one of the features that ensure that this is the case.
Benjamin Rudolph, CEO of eMovements, points out that there is no real rival product on the market: “There is one electric walking frame on the market, but it differs from ello in a number of important aspects. Ello builds on a proven basic model. The other product is also heavier than ello and has a completely different design. It’s a shame, because we would have been glad for somebody else to have done the work of making the electric walking frame known to the broader public,” says Rudolph.
Production of a series of 50 pieces per month will commence in April. More than 30 ellos have already been ordered. “The cost of the material for the first two months has already been covered,” says Rudolph. "But unfortunately, funds to cover marketing costs still need to be raised. We can only reach end customers with appropriate marketing measures.” That's why the founders are currently looking to raise money from investors. On February 22 2018, a crowdfunding campaign was launched on "Seedmatch" with the aim of raising 500,000 euros for the start-up company. The response so far has been good, with the funding threshold of 100,000 euros already reached by February 23. "And we had already crossed the 200,000-euro threshold within the first five days of the crowdfunding campaign,” says the CEO enthusiastically. “We are now quite confident of reaching our goal.” Seedmatch is considered the market leader among crowdfunding platforms in Germany and its goal is to enable small investors to invest from €250 to €10,000 in promising new companies.
The founders’ goal is for the company to quickly turn a profit: "Of course, we want to be able to stand on our own two feet as soon as possible," says Rudolph. "That's our main goal, and we want the ello to become well-known. If possible, we want it to become the Tempo® of electric walking frames.” The founders have calculated potential demand of 5,000 ellos per year. “But initially, we want to start slowly, producing 600 walking frames per year,” says the managing director. “The walking frames are assembled at our company premises. The highest number we can currently manage without having to relocate is about 2,000 pieces a year.”
eMovements currently employs 15 people. “We’ll manage with this number until the summer. But depending on how well the business goes, we might need to hire additional staff to assemble the walking frames.” Finding suitable new employees should not be a problem, because the inventors have good connections with the University of Stuttgart, where ello once learned how to walk.