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Robotics Maker Ekso Aims to Help Wheelchair-Bound to Walk


Currently there are 40 suits in use, with 34 in rehab centers and six in use by individuals. The company has a back-log of 18 suits on order with a 10-week time line for delivery, Scheder-Bieschin said. Each suit delivered also requires a week of training by Ekso personnel with rehab staff.

While the company is mainly focused on rehabilitation, its partnership with Lockheed could provide a secondary market.

"The military market represents an upside for our investors," said Harding. "We continue to work with Lockheed and eventually they will be responsible for the military market, which is what they do well. We will see a 4% to 6% royalty from that."

Ekso had sought venture capital financing for its product's development but its story didn't translate well, Scheder-Bieschin said.

"To begin with, we are hardware, not software, so they were uncomfortable with that," he said. "We were also looked at as a medical device, which scared a lot of people. And the nature of venture capital was hard in that even if one of the partners likes what you are doing, he still needs to convince everybody else to invest."

More receptive investors included Opaleye and Montrose Capital Partners. The two firms were the lead investors in the private placement that Ekso issued with its reverse merger. Opaleye, based in Cambridge, Mass., mainly invests in biotech and medical devices. InspireMD and Retrophin are also in its portfolio. Montrose is a private equity fund.

One of the largest shareholders in Ekso is Chickasaw Nation Industries, a Norman-Okla.-based holding company that represents the interests of the Chickasaw Indian tribe. It controls 15.6% of the company. According to Scheder-Bieschin, the tribe has invested $10 million into Ekso.

Opaleye founder Jim Silverman says he expects Ekso to become a product that rehabilitation providers will need.

"My view is over time any rehabilitation facility helping paraplegics is going to have to get Ekso devices to remain competitive," he said. "Patients will demand it or move to facilities that do have Eksos.

"Other low hanging fruit may be for any disease with lower-extremity weakness such as post-stroke, MS, ALS, et cetera, and of course, at-home use for those able to afford it.

"You want to invest in the leaders of an industry and for robotic exoskeletons, Ekso is it."

Cofounders Harding and Angold each hold 5.3% of the company.

After the $20.6 million in private placement financing that Ekso raised with its reverse merger, the company is now debt-free, according to Scheder-Bieschin.

"We used $2.5 million to pay off debt to investors," he said. "We have very few receivables and our cash is in good shape."

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