At the start, there were two figures.
First – 72% of all plastic packaging produced each year ends up in a landfill or is tossed outside. Swiss Industrial design students Fabian Engel and Simon Oschwald, who read the stats whilst working on a sustainable degree project, were shocked.
Second – Up to 40 million people globally need prostheses or orthotics but either can only afford low quality models or no models at all.
Two problems, one solution:
Meticulously, the two designers developed an affordable prosthetic leg system, based on the specific needs and circumstances of the users. "The Leg" was designed to allow people more movement and flexibility than similar models.
Fabian and Simon decided to use plastic waste from African streets as well as what was recycled by African companies. In the end, not only did they pass their degree in Industrial Design with flying colors but The Leg also was an overwhelming success outside of their university.
Fabian and Simon have recently won the Swiss Student Sustainability Challenge 2018, obtained two important grants from Swiss foundations and won several awards. With all this recognition, Fabian and Simon hope to turn their project, now called Circleg, into a viable social business.
Honing in on their business skills, Fabian and Simon registered in a local program for social entrepreneurs in which UBS volunteers participate as mentors.
"As industrial designers we have a broad skillset regarding concepts, designing systems and products. But we were lacking the business and investment knowledge," Simon says.
Support came from Rui Ventura. Rui is a treasurer at UBS by day but it was the second time he had volunteered as mentor. For him it was an opportunity to contribute to positive change by leveraging his professional skillset.
"I didn't have an prior knowledge about prostheses – I did however have a good understanding about the need and the impact of their product," says South African born Rui. "I had visited war torn Mozambique shortly after the war and could easily visualize how a product like Circleg's could have a life-changing impact on individuals and their communities."
Inspiring each other
After a kick-off meeting they met once a month. Rui listened a lot and acted as a sounding board. Together they explored topics like fund finance, business strategy, potential markets, future developments and next steps.
For Circleg, Rui's advice made a real difference. "Our meetings often felt like a ping-pong match because we were bouncing ideas off one another. We then took his advice further," says Simon.
For Rui the meetings were equally beneficial: "I learned a lot and was very inspired by the fact that, as young graduates, they have dedicated their time and energy to making a product for people in need – a very selfless mindset," he says. Although the official mentoring program has now ended, the three want to stay in touch.
Circleg's long-term goal is to establish a social business where they work with NGOs, governments and insurance companies in developing countries and enable as many people as possible to benefit from Circleg. They have also developed simple production methods in order to produce locally and cost-effectively.