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Pierluigi Mantovani: “Don’t take these rejections personally”

Our mission is to create accessible and innovative technologies to assist and enhance mobility and other motor functions. With our innovations in both the hardware and software end, we are able to combine our technology with fully remote physical therapy. These innovations help make our technology significantly less expensive than existing devices, and helps improve […]

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Our mission is to create accessible and innovative technologies to assist and enhance mobility and other motor functions. With our innovations in both the hardware and software end, we are able to combine our technology with fully remote physical therapy. These innovations help make our technology significantly less expensive than existing devices, and helps improve accessibility not only to the device, but for physical therapy by enabling improved remote care. As our algorithms improve, we will be able to target different muscle groups and assist and enhance other parts of the body. Eventually, we hope to be able to use our device and platform to help rehabilitate all muscle groups and mobility issues, or even help healthy individuals learn new motor movements.


As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Pierluigi Mantovani.

Pierluigi Mantovani is the co-founder and CEO of Evolution Devices, where they are helping people with Multiple Sclerosis and other neurological diseases rehabilitate their walking with a remote physical therapy program enabled by a smart nerve stimulation wearable device. Specifically, Evolution Devices is helping people with foot drop pick up their foot to trip and fall less, and walk with more confidence. Pierluigi is a healthcare entrepreneur and former Neuroscience researcher at UCSF. Pierluigi received his BA in Cognitive Science from UC Berkeley. He was inspired to build Evolution Devices initially to help his father, who struggles with Multiple Sclerosis. Pierluigi and The Evolution Devices team have been recognized by the NIH, NSF, the Toyota Mobility Foundation/The Toyota Mobility Unlimited Challenge for their innovation.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I grew up in Santa Clarita, California, and was raised by my parents who immigrated from Peru. When I was in high school, my dad was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and started to lose his ability to walk, along with a few other symptoms. At that age, it was tough to understand what exactly was happening to him, especially since MS has many “invisible” symptoms like fatigue, vision problems, and numbness. Shortly after his diagnosis, my dad was not able to work anymore. This took a toll both economically and emotionally for my family. I started working at 16 years old and went to community college to save up money and transfer. I chose to study Cognitive Science, and was accepted to UC Berkeley. Once I got to Berkeley, I started learning more about neurological problems, and dedicated myself to figuring out how technology and science could help create accessible solutions for people living with these diseases. While at Berkeley, I helped my roommate at the time, Pierre Karashchuk, start the club Neurotechnology at Berkeley (Pierre later became Chief Science Officer and one of the co-founders of Evolution Devices). We spent a lot of time playing around with biosensors and building different assistive and augmentative technology in our spare time. After graduation, I worked at a startup, Mightyhive. I learned a lot about the ins-and-outs of an early stage startup that was growing fast, and I credit a lot of my interest in how a startup can make an impact by seeing Mightyhive grow. Although I enjoyed my time there, I knew I wanted to get back into Neuroscience. A couple of years after graduating, I started working at UCSF as a research engineer for the Chang Lab in the Neurosurgery department. Here, I learned about neuro-stimulation and how it could directly affect the brain and how people function. My work experience, combined with my previous experience as a neuro-hacker, as well as my father’s walking problems getting worse and worse, led me to the idea to create Evolution Devices.

Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

With our first ever clinical pilot, we worked with our friend Jon, who is a stroke survivor and Precision Rehabilitation in Long Beach, CA. Jon went through an 8-week rehabilitation program using our prototype, with the goal of walking his first ever 5k post-stroke. He ended up improving his walking speed, completing the 5k, and doing so in record time!

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

I believe that inspiring others is one of the most important things I can try to do. I try my best to understand the opportunities I was given, and to allow my unique experiences guide me in helping as many people as I can, and to lift up and inspire others to use their experiences, talents and opportunities to do something good and make the world better. I value honesty and family. My family is extremely important to me and is always in the back of my mind for whatever I do.

Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

Evolution Devices is creating assistive and augmentative technologies for improving mobility. We believe freedom of mobility is a fundamental human right. Our vision is to lead the evolution of movement therapy by developing cutting-edge, affordable technologies that enable anyone, anywhere to receive personalized rehabilitative care, empowering their independence. We are currently building the EvoWalk platform, where we aim to rehabilitate walking for the millions of Americans who struggle with walking impairments due to injury, disease, and age, including the 15 Million Americans who experience falls due to walking problems. Initially, Evolution Devices is focusing on rehabilitating walking for neurologically impaired patients, such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, or spinal cord injury. We are dedicated to the treatment and rehabilitation of lower-limb impairments, and use state-of-the-art motion capture technology and machine learning techniques to develop the EvoWalk platform, which blends a smart, rehabilitative stimulation device with remote physical therapy.

How do you think this will change the world?

Our mission is to create accessible and innovative technologies to assist and enhance mobility and other motor functions. With our innovations in both the hardware and software end, we are able to combine our technology with fully remote physical therapy. These innovations help make our technology significantly less expensive than existing devices, and helps improve accessibility not only to the device, but for physical therapy by enabling improved remote care. As our algorithms improve, we will be able to target different muscle groups and assist and enhance other parts of the body. Eventually, we hope to be able to use our device and platform to help rehabilitate all muscle groups and mobility issues, or even help healthy individuals learn new motor movements.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

My dad’s walking was getting worse, and he was falling much more frequently. He was prescribed an assistive device to use, but it was extremely expensive. He was then given an alternative, cheaper device called an ankle-foot orthosis, which is essentially a bulky brace which would not help him rehabilitate at all. I would consider this the tipping point — knowing there was potential to rehabilitate walking problems, but recognizing there wasn’t an effective and accessible solution. That is when I along with my co-founders Pierre Karashchuk and Juan Rodriguez decided to start Evolution Devices.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

We need to scale up our production process and continue to gather data on how our technology improves walking.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. ​(Please share a story or example for each.)

1. You will get rejected — a lot.

Not everyone will see your vision. The process for a startup to grow is tough, especially when you’re early and don’t have much more than a vision and maybe a prototype. You need to find the people that believe in you and your mission.

2. Don’t take these rejections personally.

People have their reasons for saying no, and your job as an entrepreneur is to find the people that will support you to grow the company. Move on from the “no’s” and keep searching for the people who are looking for you.

3. Your experiences are unique — use them to your advantage.

What makes your company unique at the beginning is the team. Each person on your team has their own unique experiences which motivated you all to develop the company. Competitors will exist, the product will change, and your experiences are the unique value that will drive the company to success. This will help in building up confidence when doing sales and speaking with investors, as well as building confidence to run the many other parts of your company.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask a. This was tough at first, especially when doing something new like fundraising. If you don’t ask for what you are looking for, you may not get it. There’s a constant theme of not being afraid of rejection, and it applies here too. Ask for the partnership, ask for the money you need, ask for help, the list goes on. If you don’t ask, you probably won’t receive.

5. Have fun with it. There’s immense pressure all the time while running a startup — but remember why you started it in the first place. If you believe in what you’re doing and are surrounded by people that are complementary and make you better, there’s no need to stress. Have fun with it and enjoy the process — remember it’s what you signed up for 🙂

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

Never give up. Seriously. If you have the energy to keep making progress and you still believe in yourself and your business, just keep going and stay positive. If you are open to change and you never give up, you’ll find success in some way. Something else I believe is really important is to not compare yourself to others. Each person defines success in different ways, and many companies and entrepreneurs’ paths are glorified, meaning they don’t always show the entire picture of how they achieved “success”. Everyone is going to have a different experience, so don’t compare and don’t give up — keep learning and improving every day.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

We are building the future of how people learn to move. We are now creating what will be commonplace in the future, starting with assistive technology, so if you’re the right fit join the ride now if you can because we are about to take-off.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: @evolutiondevices
Linkedin: ​https://www.linkedin.com/company/evolution-devices/
Youtube: ​https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCznNWNOBnq1jOFx4bp1tDIg Facebook: Evolution Devices

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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