Pakistani Student of 'Smart Walking Stick For Parkinson’s Patients' Fame Plans More Products for the Elderly
By Hafsah Sarfraz
There are two kinds of millennials…one who think they will never be able to save for the 401k or get a house as they are spending too much on avocado toast and coffee and those who are using their entrepreneurial minds to bring out interesting start-ups that are changing our everyday lives.
Neha Shahid Chaudhry, a young Pakistani entrepreneur living in the United Kingdom, belongs to the second category of the millennial generation.
She is not only an entrepreneur who owns her own company by the name of Walk to Beat Limited but also an inventor who visualized, worked hard, and invented a smart walking companion for Parkinson’s patients.
Chaudhry developed a walking stick called ‘Walk to Beat’ with integrated technology that looks normal, in fact, modern with its sculptural and sleek aesthetics from outside. However, the stick has a discrete cue to help Parkinsonism overcome when they freeze while walking.
The smart walking stick addresses the symptoms of freezing in Parkinson’s patients. It uses technology to detect festination (the period before a patient experience freezing or walking difficulties) and then provides a customized haptic cue to the individual to help them keep walking.
The device has been designed in a trendy way to ensure that patients feel comfortable using it. Additionally, it has a unique system, which gathers real-time data on the patients walking performance for day-to-day management of their condition and provide long-term data for medication trend analysis. Outside of the usual verbal, visual or educational cues, the direct-to-consumer medical device is considered a new approach as the smart walking stick also supports a social cause by solving the real problem for Parkinson’s disease patients.
It all began when the young Pakistani entrepreneur was asked to pick a research subject while studying at the University of the West of England in Bristol and come up with a product solution for it. Chaudhry developed the smart stick after seeing how Parkinsonism had afflicted her late grandfather in Pakistan.
She decided to study the disease in detail as her research subject and find a way to improve the lives of patients suffering from it. It took several visits to patients, neurologists and physiotherapists followed by studies on Parkinson’s disease to understand the disease with a different approach.
Initially, after the research, Chaudhry came up with 13 potential products for assisting Parkinson’s patients. She recalls the time when ‘Walk to Beat’ was nothing more than a working prototype during her final year of college. The device became a reality only when her tutor saw potential in it and asked her to apply for a design competition and from there, Chaudhry started getting an idea of what she had to do.
Unfortunately, she failed the competition but the Enterprise Team at her university deemed the idea worthy and directed her towards the Social Entrepreneurship schemes run by the institution in collaboration with other organizations.
Winning the ‘UNLTD Do-it Award – for Brilliant Social Entrepreneur Idea 2014’ along with £3,000 (some $4,000) became a turning point for Chaudhry that made ‘Walk to Beat’ a social enterprise, and helped her patent the invention and protect the product.
Her first award got her a start-up space at the Robotics Laboratory Incubator. It helped the Pakistani entrepreneur make progress and contacts and win the second award to step-up ‘UNLTD Build-it Award – for Brilliant Social Entrepreneur 2015’ along with a whopping £15,000 (some $20,000) this time.
“This award allowed me to work on the project further and develop prototypes to do trials with patients and clinicians, leading to medical verification of the product and market viability. I also got selected for Lloyds Bank Program – Social School of Entrepreneurs, which gave £4,000 (some $5,000) for my start-up,” says Chaudhry.
The program made her understand a lot about entrepreneurship along with learning to set up a company in the UK. It also gave her an opportunity to meet several entrepreneurs with years of practical experience.
Chaudhry’s company is now in its third year. She got her patent published in the UK and is currently collaborating with Robotics Innovation Facility at the robotics lab and Sysemia Limited – a software development company which is investing £50,000 (some $67,000) in her start-up.
“As we are now targeting three markets; patients, caretakers and clinicians, we are also aiming to launch the special walking stick in the UK at the end of 2017. In the future, ‘Walk to Beat’ aims to design stream of products to empower ageing population with degenerative conditions,” Chaudhry anticipates.
No success comes without its fair share of challenges. ‘Walk to Beat’ was also no different. Speaking about the challenges, the young Pakistani entrepreneur says, “Entrepreneurship itself is a big challenge.”
“Every day you have to motivate yourself. In the beginning, you have a fragile idea that only you are excited about but then, you have to convince others. Every day has been a learning period. Running a company and developing a technical product requires me to wear different hats all day long,” she continues.
Chaudhry recalls, “There were days when I would not see any opening or response from the stakeholders. Yet, I had a strong belief in the vision and I just stuck to it until I could convey it out to the right people. Slowly things started to come together and ‘Walk to Beat’ eventually built a network of resources and contacts.”
This year Chaudhry won the ‘Entrepreneurship Award 2017’ at the European Robotics Forum, Edinburgh Scotland and ‘Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2017’ at Future Awards in Bristol.
“These awards have been a realization that my journey as an entrepreneur is also a-year-old, something I thought I will never be able to do. I commit to working on my start-up for it to nurture into a successful business as I have learned from my experience so far that along with all the knowledge and resources, consistency is the key.”
With several awards to her credit and a future full of endless options, Neha Shahid Chaudhry is a testament to the fact that hard work and determination reaps results and that Pakistan’s youth is hugely talented. Kudos to her and her smart walking stick for revolutionizing the lives of Parkinson’s patients.
(Hafsah Sarfraz is a freelance journalist and a development communications professional who is passionate about women empowerment and gender equality. - The Express Tribune)