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The Swedish Assistive Technology Group: Enhancing Independence for Physical Disabilities

HJÄLPMEDELSTEKNIK SVERIGE AB | Lars Akerman | ceo | The Swedish Assistive Technology Group

In this effort of improving the quality of life and providing independence to millions of individuals worldwide, assistive technologies work to transform the lives of people. According to the UN, by 2050, the number of people aged 60 and above will reach 2.1 billion, representing 21% of the world’s population. This shift underscores the importance of developing innovative assistive technologies, improving the lives of those with physical disabilities is bound to grow even further.

With one such inspiration, The Swedish Assistive Technology Group called Hjälpmedelsteknik Sverige in Swedish is improving the quality of life for the world’s aging population by providing reliable assistive aids and giving them the ability to live to their fullest.

This is why we at Insights Care featured in its upcoming edition of Europe’s Most Innovative Medical Device Companies, where we interviewed the team at The Assistive Technology Group from Sweden — Hjälpmedelsteknik Sverige to know how the company tackles all the challenges from its foundation.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Kindly tell us about your journey and inspiration behind venturing into the medical device sector.

People live longer and face challenges that need to be met in order to maintain an active and independent lifestyle throughout life’s changes. That is our inspiration and this is the journey of the Swedish Assistive Technology Group and Hjälpmedelsteknik Sverige.

Our inspiration is to improve the quality of life for the world’s aging population by providing reliable, innovative and life stimulating assistive aids that optimize every individual’s independence and ability to live life to its fullest regardless of what challenges every person has to tackle.

Brief us about the company. How is it contributing to the existing needs of healthcare? What solution is it bringing to the table?

Hjälpmedelsteknik Sverige AB was founded in 1999 by Jonas Christensson and Christer Magnusson, both with an extensive background in the area of assistive technology. It is one of Sweden’s oldest private companies in the assistive technology sector. The company started as a provider of technical services to the public sector in Southern Sweden. Ten years later the two founders recognized that it was necessary to broaden the company activities in order to grow and develop. They decided to take the lead within the private sector of the assistive technology market in Sweden.

Contacts were established with an international consulting company which led to a contact with Lars Akerman, an internationally experienced business developer with a background in many different industries in Eastern and Western Europe, North America and the Far East.

The company started to expand its activities and the first steps were taken to develop new activity areas. One of these was retail and the private market of assistive technology, which until then had been non-existing as the public sector in Sweden provided all basic needs within this area. As the population was aging and the financial resources in the already highly taxed country of Sweden were under hard pressure – and are expected to continue to be more limited than in earlier decades – a development of the private sector was likely.

Aging is a natural process that – even though we live better and longer – causes problems in different ways – reduced mobility, vision, hearing, balance, muscle strength and much more. Noone wants to go through this, but most of us will and the decision was taken by Jonas, Christer and Lars to take on the challenge to become the leaders within this area, starting in Sweden.

In order to be successful within this area it was of critical importance to develop international contacts and cooperation with leading researchers, developers and manufacturers globally, to become involved in manufacturing and in research and development of new technology.

The development started and the first retail stores opened with one focus – to make life easier and to improve the quality of life for the aging population.

In 2014 Lars Akerman was appointed Managing Director.

Close relations were established with industry developers ranging from internationally established and leading companies like Resmed, Philips, Invacare, Heartway, Himolla, Sunrise Medical, Care of Sweden and many others to new, innovative developers and manufacturers like Rollz International, e-ability, Life Mobility and Human Protection from the Netherlands, Saljol from Germany, MyAddon and Entusia from Belgium, and Strongback from Switzerland.

The manufacturing company JCM Elektronik – which had developed and manufactured a unique mobility platform – the AKKA – for children and adults with neurological and multidisabilities – was acquired in 2014 and the year after Hjälpmedelsteknik became a member of a European consortium to develop the world’s first exo-skeleton for elderly persons. The consortium consisted of 3 European universities, a hardware company which among other things supplied the international space station and a software company developing software for companies like Sony – and the Swedish Hjälpmedelsteknik. The R & D company Euro Wearable Technology was founded and the small Hjälpmedelsteknik group continued to grow and develop. The cooperation opened the door for the company to many internationally leading developers and suppliers and strengthened the company’s involvement in product development.

In 2017 one of the two original founders – Christer Magnusson – sadly passed away and Lars Akerman decided to join the company as equal partner to Jonas Christensson. The company board was strengthened and Dr Stefan Gram – previous group physician for the Tetra Pak group – was appointed Chief Medical Advisor.

As a result of the close relations the company today represents its international manufacturers – often in all the Nordic countries of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland – and we take active part in the product development that benefits consumers all over the world.

The company’s retail activities in Sweden expanded to 6 retail stores, a franchise system was developed and a decision to establish 40 physical retail stores and the market’s leading industry e-commerce platform was taken.

In 2020 the decision was taken to divide the group into four divisions under the name of the Assistive Technology Group:

B2B – Hjälpmedelsteknik Sverige AB – sales to distributors, retailers and the public sector in all Nordic countries

B2C – Keep on Retail AB – sales to consumers through own and franchised stores and through an industry-leading platform –

Manufacturing – JCM Elektronik AB – development and manufacturing of the AKKA system (sold in most countries in Europe and in Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore).

R & D – Euro Wearable Technology

  1. Healthcare needs and solutions

Maintained independence is one of the most critical tasks for every person as we age. It has a tremendous impact on the quality of life for every individual, why solutions within this area are crucial. It covers a number of areas ranging from mobility, strength, balance, incontinence, communication, social life and much more. To find new, innovative and reliable solutions in these areas remains our focus and we are proud that this has brought us to become one of Europe’s most innovative medical device companies of 2023.

Give us an idea about the company’s services/products. What is the process of innovating medical devices at the company? What demographics is the company serving? 

The product development process involves our product development team, medical advisors, researchers, manufacturers and end users. The process is sometimes very long and sometimes we can bring a product to market within a few months.

The product development process is always based on end-user needs. The solutions must be reliable and easy to understand for the end user. They must always be cost-efficient. All products must have a high quality that makes them last long. This is important from a financial, environmental and operational efficiency standpoint.

Can you elaborate upon the core values on which the company is built and what is its mission?  

Our operation is built on important core values that can be found in every imployee and every aspect of the company’s activity:

Knowledge, quality, integrity, honesty, efficiency, service and reliability (in production, sales, after sales service in products as well as employees, policies, guidelines and organization). Company motto: Nothing is impossible.

What are some of the challenges that the company faces when conducting its operations and how does it turns them into opportunities for growth? 

  1. Development is costly and requires funding to remain at the forefront.
  2. Lack of future vision among banks and investors with regards to our industry is quite common compared to sexier and more high tech industries.
  3. The cross over between the public and private sector within the assistive technology industry.

What advice would you like to give to budding entrepreneurs and enthusiasts who desire to engage into the medical devices sector? 

  • Be patient and long term focused.
  • It is an industry for the future, moves slowly but only goes in one direction as the world’s population is aging. It is not a question of if, but when.
  • Always think of the benefit of a product or solution, what impact it will have on a person’s life rather than the product itself.
  • Get to know the end user the solution is for, his/her ability to use it, how it makes the user feel, how it impacts other people and the environment.
  • Think globally but respect locally.
  • Create a positive, dynamic, friendly, helpful, ambitious and fun work environment.

How do you envision scaling the company’s services and operations in 2023 and beyond?  

  1. Turnover. The ambition is to profitably develop the company’s B2B business by 8-10 times current sales and the B2C in Sweden by 8-10 times within the next 5 years as the industry structure is changing.
  2. b. Product development. The ambition is to launch the next generation of the AKKA system to the market and to launch one new unique product/solution per year over the next 5 years.
  3. c. Organization. Our ambition is to maintain our fantastic employees, the wonderful spirit and atmosphere within the company, continue to improve knowledge and increase our experience, maintain or further strengthen the relations with our international partners and to focus on being a company with high ambitions with a healthy respect for the challenges.
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