Christopher Adams

The Business Herald’s markets and banking reporter.

Cushioned crutches good idea that's up and running

Overseas firms interested in entrepreneur's shock absorber idea for his 'sticks'

Marshall Basham came up with a cheaper design than what was available, using rubber dampers instead of springs, which caused back pain. Photo / Chris Gorman
Marshall Basham came up with a cheaper design than what was available, using rubber dampers instead of springs, which caused back pain. Photo / Chris Gorman

It's been more than a decade since Marshall Basham fell off a horse in Kenya and smashed his pelvis in seven places.

But despite the passing of the years, and a hip replacement, the Auckland-based entrepreneur still has to use crutches when venturing far on foot.

"I hate to call myself a cripple because in the morning I'm OK, but by the end of the day I walk with a serious limp," Basham said. "When I go to the rugby I need two sticks - there's no way I can do Eden Park without crutches."

While the accident has had a big impact on his life, it was also the catalyst for a business idea.

The shoulder pain he experienced from getting around on "sticks" prompted him to look for a way to ease the burden on those who use crutches.

With the help of government funding and an AUT University engineer, as well as Otahuhu toolmaker EG Whiter and Onehunga medical manufacturer Monaghan Plastics, Basham has developed a shock absorbing device that fits into the tubing of existing crutches.

His company - Auckland Mobility Devices - has now attracted the interest of two global healthcare firms that could help commercialise his product.

"We are currently exploring the possibilities of a licensing agreement." Basham said he did not want to disclose the names of the companies because negotiations were at a sensitive stage.

He said the shock absorber could be on sale as early as next year. Although there are other shock absorbers on the market, including those that fit on to existing crutches, Basham said the cost of his device - which would retail for US$40 - and its design set it apart from the competition.

"I came up with a cheaper design made of plastic using rubber dampers instead of springs," he said. "Springs push back and the actual stroke is too long so you slump, causing pain in the centre of the back," Basham said.

The accordion-like rubber dampers compress when pressure is placed on them and release when the pressure is removed.

Testing by the University of Auckland's Centre For Advanced Composite Materials found the shock absorber improved the performance of crutches through lessening the initial shock and cushioning the overall shock.

Mark Robotham, a small business consultant and former general manager of NZTE's Escalator programme, said Basham first approached him with his business plan a couple of years ago.

"I said he was mad and he needed to go off and do a whole lot of things as far as bringing some structure around his business and getting clear around his value proposition," Robotham said. "And bugger me he's just been one of those guys that's gone away and done it ... he's been a fantastic battler."

Robotham said Basham's success would depend on striking the right deal with one of the big medical players.

Basham says Auckland Mobility Devices is seeking investment for two additional devices in development.

- NZ Herald

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