Most people will know the pain that comes with spraining an ankle. As far as Exo-L is concerned this is a thing of the past, because they offer a custom-made ankle brace that optimally protects against ankle sprains. This way you are optimally protected and can continue to move comfortably during work, sports or in daily life. The male and female Dutch hockey teams used it in Tokyo during the Olympic Games. We hear more from Frank-Jan van Waveren, CEO of Exo-L.
How did EXO-L start?
"A student had to end his football career early due to an ankle injury. As a Delft student of Industrial Design Engineering, he started wondering about a remedy. Are injuries like these preventable? And can we help prevent an existing injury from recurring? Research shows that in 99.5% of cases, the outer ankle ligament is the first to tear. The design of the EXO-L ankle brace consists of a 3D printed part that rests on the ankle. This part is connected with a cord to the shoe, on which an attachment point is applied. This cord mimics the outer ankle ligament, but is a lot stronger. During spraining moments, the cord will come under tension, so that spraining is prevented. The unique effect of the ankle brace offers optimal protection, total freedom of movement and therefore maximum comfort."
What are your biggest achievements?
“We are extremely proud that 27 hockey players - from 7 different countries - played with our EXO-L ankle braces at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Specific players won 2 gold and 6 silver medals. We are also proud that more and more companies in the industry are making the EXO-L ankle brace available to their employees in order to prevent sick leave caused by ankle sprains. With our ankle brace you can work and be protected all day long without restriction of movement. Satisfied users are the best advertising we could wish for. Of course it’s great if that’s on an Olympic stage. But someone who can run again makes us very proud as well. Because it shows how good the product is.”
What challenges have you encountered?
“We were ahead of times with our innovation. That sounds cool, but it’s not very practical. We have been working on these braces since 2012 and we wanted to be able to tailor them to everybody. We achieved this by scanning ankles in 3D. However, the scanners were not accurate enough at the time, so we built our own. This allowed us to 3D print the optimal brace. However, making your own scanners also means maintaining and updating this technology. That was both labor intensive and expensive. These days there are scanners available that are accurate enough - even very affordable clip-on scanners that can be used in combination with an iPad. 3DScan-to-3Dprint and customized products are gradually becoming commonplace in the consumer market. But it wasn't like that 10 years ago. Sometimes it takes time before the market is ready to understand and appreciate the added value of an innovation.”
What are the next steps for EXO-L?
"Scaling up! We are engaged in strategic partnerships, making sure customers can get advice close to home and purchase the ankle brace. We now have 84 stores carrying our products in the Netherlands, 4 in Belgium and 12 in Oceania. A partnership was recently concluded in Canada and contacts are being made with partners in Germany, France, China and the USA. We are working on further simplifying the production process in order to accelerate scaling up. It is wonderful to have conceived and developed this innovation in the Netherlands, but there are of course much bigger markets across the border. Ankle injuries are a very common injury worldwide that have a huge impact on work, leisure and daily life. Our goal is to reduce that problem by using the EXO-L ankle brace.”
EXO-L is now going 'around the world' on stamps. What’s your take on this?
"It's a very creative way of marketing and a wonderful collaboration with PostNL and TU Delft. Speaking of which: ankle sprains also occur quite often with postmen. Our product is certainly not only for (top) athletes: people with an active profession can also benefit greatly from injury prevention. Think of industrial environments for example. Helmets, shin guards, mouth guards: we’ve embraced them as everyday protection during work or exercise. We hope that ankle protection will also be included in that list someday. Then EXO-L will not only travel the world on a stamp, but also as a physical product.”