Yale’s Penta Project Puts Prosthetics Where They’re Needed Most

By Ken Liebeskind

There’s never a shortage of innovative startups on the horizon for Yale University students.

Juniors Victor Wang and Henry Iseman worked with Brown University student Trang Duong to launch Penta, an online platform that links amputees in Vietnam with lightly used prosthetic devices. Penta has received grant funding from the Clinton Global Foundation, Brown University’s Social Innovation Fellowship and the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute Fellowship.

“We’re trying to provide high-quality, low-cost equipment by collecting used devices around the country from clinics and individual amputees and re-customizing them for patients in Vietnam,” Wang said.

“We provide updates on their donations, find a match in Vietnam and build an emotional connection between donors and patients who are giving this equipment a second life,” he continued. “It’s an important connection to make, which helps us become transparent in this donation model.”

Our winter trip – volunteers at the hospital

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The founders selected Vietnam as the first country for the project because Duong is originally from Ho Chi Minh City. “There is a high concentration of people with disabilities there due to the legacies of war and motorcycle accidents,” she said.

The Penta team has traveled to Vietnam to meet with patients and solicit the cooperation of area hospitals. “We developed a patient list of 1,000 people and interviewed 100 patients and sent devices to Vietnam,” Wang said. “We worked with local hospitals and will do additional fittings this summer.”

Most of the four million amputees in Vietnam who need prosthetics cannot afford the $2,000 to $10,000 cost of new devices. Penta sells used devices to Vietnamese patients for $200, which includes shipping and fitting, with local hospitals receiving some of the money on a contractual basis.

The technology involved in the Penta project ranges from existing methods for re-customizing prosthetic devices to 3D printing that builds prototypes for the prosthetic designs. “This summer we’ll bring engineering students to Vietnam to interview patients and see what they want so we can prototype knee and ankle joints and test them out,” Wang said.

The Penta Volunteer Team of Summer 2016

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Onyeka Obiocha, a fellow at the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, advised the team of students as they grew Penta’s social mission. “It mixes the potential of a social enterprise with the high needs of Vietnamese amputees,” he said. “Instead of maximizing profit, they are adding a social value for people.”

Obiocha sees New Haven as a center for this type of health-related endeavor. “[The city] has the capital, financial and human resources to support ventures like this. It’s a city that can grow small businesses that bring financial and social gain, and a college city with universities like Yale providing much-needed resources. New Haven is a capstone for entrepreneurship and innovative companies in general,” he said.

Son, a team member of Penta, shares his thoughts about social stigma associated with disability.

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Last month, Penta won the Yale College Dean’s Challenge on Social Innovation, a special recognition given to an undergraduate social endeavor from Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI).

“Penta set out to do important work,” Holloway told YEI. “By identifying sources for prosthetics and finding ways to streamline the process, Penta has improved amputees’ chances for receiving these life-altering devices.”


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