Inspiration for innovation can come from personal experience, and that has certainly been the case for Hend Almoghunni – although not without going through the pain barrier.
The tech entrepreneur whose smart wearable garment ergo – designed to provide real-time feedback and assessment of a person’s workplace posture, and the potential risks posed by that posture – is currently being incubated at Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP), knows precisely the benefit it can bring to people, because she has been there herself.
Hend battled back pain for several years and admits: “For a long time, I didn’t believe what the many physiotherapists I visited were telling me, which was that my pain was posture-related and, with more self-awareness, it should take care of itself”. It led her to discover a practice called the Alexander Technique, which encourages people to have greater inbuilt recognition of how they move during their work or activities – and, ultimately, to the idea that has now become ergo.
“According to recent reports, back pain ranks as one of the top 10 causes of disability worldwide, and a third of all work-related injuries are back injuries,” she says. “Personally, when I suffered back pain, I tried everything possible in the world of medicine and natural therapy before coming across the Alexander Technique, which is all about creating self-awareness of our movement habits.
“I decided to pay closer attention to my working posture while sitting or working in the lab, after which I started to feel a notable alleviation in the constant pain I used to get. However, I also realized that, as life gets busy, we tend to slip into bad habits and end up putting pressure on our bodies, and especially our back.
“It is this experience that gave birth to ergo – a self-awareness and remote-monitoring tool that can help people to keep their back in good shape all the time.”
Using garment-integrated sensors which are wirelessly connected to online digital monitoring applications, ergo keeps the wearer constantly informed about whether their posture could create back problems, muscle fatigue, or muscle injury. A functional prototype has already been developed at QSTP, and Hend and her team are now looking to finalize its manufacturing specifications in order to scale up production of the technology, while also registering a patent. And Qatar is the first market in its sights.
“While ergo is intended to tackle a universal modern epidemic – back pain – it aims to target users within local companies and corporate businesses in Qatar as the first adopters of the technology,” Hend explained.
“Integrating such a wearable tool into the work environment is an unprecedented step toward raising the bar in prioritizing employees’ health and safety, which will encourage their engagement and productivity.”
According to its creator, QSTP has been instrumental in ergo progressing as far as it already has. “It was through the QSTP XLR8 program that we were able to transform the concept into a prototype,” Hend says. “And being incubated at QSTP has placed us at the heart of this great source of tech entrepreneurship energy.
“The facilities, the support we have had from the QSTP team in establishing our startup, and the access to mentoring whenever we need it allow us to focus primarily on the development of our product. All of these aspects are indispensable in enabling our entrepreneurial spirit to lead the way and allowing us to keep our sights high. Being at QSTP is a privilege that we are determined to make the most of.”
Ultimately, Hend hopes to see ergo’s scope grow to the point where it encompasses a range of users that extends beyond those who suffer work-related back problems, and to physiotherapy clinicians and ergonomic consultants. “We also aim to continue to develop an array of functionalities that are focused on the issue of employees’ health and safety in general,” she says.
“Essentially, we want to push for technology to be integrated into the world of ergonomics, as the next new solution for minimizing work-related injuries.”
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Hend Almoghunni says: “Reach out for advice and support to bring your ideas to life – QSTP, with its incubatees being happy to share their insights, is a great place to start on this – and always believe in your idea while keeping an open mind, so you can legislate for the challenges that lie ahead.”
• To discover more about ergo, visit www.ergo.com.qa