Posted on 4/4/2013. Interview by Howie Rhee
Tell us about yourself
Captain Jonathan Kuniholm, of North Carolina, is the President and Founder of the Open Prosthetics Project, and the Founder of StumpworX, Inc., a prosthetic arm manufacturing company. Captain Kuniholm served in the United States Marine Corps from 1997 to 2006. He served as a combat engineer officer and platoon commander for the 1st Marine Division in Operation Iraqi Freedom II. In 2006, he was honorably discharged after being wounded in combat and losing his right forearm. He is a Member of the Board of the Given Limb Foundation, and is an advisor and past Chair of the Board of Able Flight. In 2009, he received the DESIGNsmith award from North Carolina State University, and received a fellowship from the National Science Foundation’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program in 2003. Mr. Kuniholm received an A.B. from Dartmouth College, and a B.S., M.S., and M.I.D. from North Carolina State University.
Tell us about your time at Duke, what were you involved in?
I have worked in the Clark Lab at Duke, initially involved in atomic force microscopy control. Following my injury in Iraq, I switched focus to prosthetic arm control, working on the DARPA Revolutionizing Prosthetics 2009 program.
What's your major/program and when will you be graduating? Tell us something about your educational experience at Duke.
Tell us about your idea.
StumpworX is devoted to improving prosthetic arm technology NOW—innovatively, inexpensively, and incrementally. We are creating a soft prosthetic socket constructed like today’s most advanced athletic shoes. By responding to the real needs and priorities of amputees, we make prosthetic arms more wearable, functional, and comfortable. The most used prosthetic arm device was 100 years old on October 29, 2012, but that's not the most significant problem in prosthetic arms. Half of patients don’t wear an arm at all, and 90 per cent of them cite fit and comfort as the reason. Even with high tech devices, suspension—how you attach it—is the key, and our soft socket addresses that need. A social enterprise, we engage users in helping shape our vision for the future of prosthetic arms through part ownership shared with all US Military arm amputees.
How did you come up with your idea? When did you come up with it?
After seeing the state of prosthetic arm technology first hand, I knew that it could be better. I couldn't believe that there was so little innovation. I further realized that it made no sense that a component that was meant to function in so many ways like a shoe--the suspension, or how a prosthesis is attached to the body--shared do few of the shoe's innovations. So I've set out to try and make arms more like shoes.
How did you meet your team members?
I haven't been able to interest anyone in this idea enough to create a real team.
How has the Duke Start-Up Challenge been helpful to you?
The DSC has forced me to focus on some information product that better explains what I am up to. Also, the comments from the judges have given me insight into what people understand and don't about my ideas, and helped me think about how to better communicate them.
Did you connect with any judges for advice, and if so, who were they and was it helpful?
No, although I still intend to do this.
What advice do you have for Duke students that are thinking of starting a company?
Don't be afraid to do it.
Want more? Watch the videos and read the other interviews for all of the Round 3 teams in the Duke Start-Up Challenge
And join us for the Grand Finale with David Cummings ’02 for the 14th Annual Duke Start-Up Challenge on Thursday, April 11th, 2013 at 7:30pm ET at Fuqua’s Geneen Auditorium. RSVP on Facebook
Not able to attend in person? Watch the livestream on Duke’s YouTube channel.