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Tech from Flanders helps patients and war victims recover

Creative Therapy, a spin-off from Ghent University (UGent) in Flanders, uses sensor-driven devices to motivate rehabilitating patients on their path to recovery. The startup currently has two products – a smart exercise mat and a squeeze ball – that make it possible to combine motor control exercises with games intended to boost motivation. With both products, the Flanders-based startup is on the verge of international acceleration.

Unlocking motivation through digital tech

Launched in 2019, Creative Therapy resulted from a student project in the lab of Jelle Saldien, professor of industrial design at UGent. “The challenge initially was to develop a solution to motivate children with developmental dyspraxia to continue exercising day after day,” says co-founder and CEO Arno Penders.

“While society is digitizing rapidly, the therapeutic world is somewhat lagging behind,” adds Saldien. “Nonetheless, digital stimuli can easily be used to help motivate people, especially children. There’s still a lot of underutilized potential to link this type of motivation to the repetitive and often quite boring exercises in the context of physical rehabilitation. The challenge is to come up with a user-friendly format.”

“A soft, flexible tablet on the floor”

Matti is the first solution developed by Penders and his fellow students – Sébastien Michiels and Jamil Joundi – together with Saldien. This smart exercise mat has 3,136 pressure points. On top is an LED grid that can light up in various colors. Penders: “You can compare it to a soft, flexible tablet lying on the floor. The smart mat is linked to a software platform allowing you to choose different games and exercises to carry out.”

The four colleagues quickly realized that their product could be used more broadly if they personalized the exercises. “From children with dyspraxia to adults rehabilitating from cerebral palsy, the target groups can be very diverse,” Penders clarifies.

Matti is already being used in some 20 hospitals and rehabilitation centers across the region of Flanders. Through international distributors, it is also available in 20 different locations around the world – from Europe to Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong. One notable new international market for Creative Therapy is war-stricken Ukraine. Through a local distributor, the Flanders-based startup signed a contract to supply 4 Squeezis to rehabilitation centers where war victims recover from injuries.

Not your regular squeeze ball

Squeezi is Creative Therapy’s second product on the market. This sensor technology-filled squeeze ball is connected to a range of games to motivate users to perform customized exercises. The ball captures the exercise and reads the data to the accompanying therapist, who can thus monitor progress. 

While Matti is intended for hospitals and rehabilitation centers, Squeezi targets care centers and locations for people with disabilities. “That's where you find people who need lifelong exercise,” Penders says. “For them, staying motived is critical.”

Conquering the international marketplace

Creative Therapy is now further exploring the international potential of its innovative products. The startup wants to focus more on providing demos and support for therapists through its own academy. This should help break “the fear barrier” among therapists who are reluctant to use digital tech for therapeutic purposes. “To fund our international growth, we are preparing a EUR 600,000 capital round,” says Saldien.

Creative Therapy’s current investors include imec.istart (a program of imec, Flanders’ strategic research center for nanotech and digital innovation) and the BlueHealth Innovation Fund, a public-private partnership between government organizations, companies, research institutions and healthcare players in Flanders.

More info

Creative Therapy
Reported by
De Tijd newspaper
23 March 2023

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