Param Shah, 21, Seeks to Speed Up Process for Orthotic Development
A three-week high school service trip stirred something in Param Shah.
Shah, a native Californian, traveled to the Himalayan Region of India in 2014 to help build sanitation systems and assist in other projects to improve conditions for those residing there. The mission trip was arranged through the Chinmaya Organization for Rural Development (CORD), which facilitates integrated, participatory and sustainable rural development in villages in India. During his participation, Shah met people with disabilities, including many children.
“I saw an overwhelming need for devices and medical treatment to alleviate symptoms of disability,” he says.
After his return to The States, he started the Lotus Life Foundation, a non-profit organization aimed at providing medical intervention and education, including medical devices, for children with disabilities in rural India. The ultimate goal is to integrate these children into society and eradicate the stigma associated with disability in rural India. With partners from CORD, Shah was able to set up distribution pipelines through clinics around the country.
In the United States, he realized a similar need. In both cases, it usually took a month to have the devices custom made and distributed to the child.
“A lot of patients were either in severe pain because they didn’t fit or they threw them away,” he says. “That was the inspiration to get better orthotic devices to children faster.”
After Shah graduated high school, he enrolled at Johns Hopkins University. There, through research, he realized the same problem “permeated throughout the world.” That spurred him to create Fusiform, a medical technology startup that develops 3D technology to enable the manufacturing of custom devices in a much faster time frame.
The Abel Foundation provided initial funding and a team formed to make ankle orthotics. It took a year for Shah and his co-founder, Alex Mathews, to develop the manufacturing software and create the mechanism of the device.
Today, a variety of devices in a variety of sizes are manufactured using Fusiform technology.
The whole idea is to take a 3D scan of the patient and automate the custom device in software, and then print it out,” Shah says.
The process can be tedious, he explains, because many companies try to build products with 3D printing, but they aren’t “to scale.” The Fusiform technology gives their customers the ability to utilize 3D printing on a mass scale, Shah says.
As Fusiform proceeded in business, there was a fundamental shift in the company’s focus.
“As we got more involved, we realized it wasn’t about the device, but it was the software that became more interesting to investors,” Shah explains. This interest was reflected by their client base, as well, which completely shifted. “Now, we’re a software company for all sorts of companies producing orthotics to footwear to eyewear.”
Fusiform leaders begin work with a client by studying the manufacturing pipeline. Then, a team builds software that commands mass production for the clients, which today are located all over the world.
Shah estimates that the process takes about three to four months from the first meeting to proper deployment of the program, which tackles any manufacturing process that needs digital input. It could involve 3D printing or other digital platforms like CNC machining, Shah explains.
Shah founded Fusiform at just 19 years of age, and took a leave of absence from Johns Hopkins University after his sophomore year. The young firm employs 18, both part-time and full-time, with an average age of 22 years old. Several employees are currently enrolled at Johns Hopkins University, including Mathews, who is finishing school this semester. In January, Shah and Mathews were named one of Forbes’s “30 Under 30” on its list of young people reinventing manufacturing. Standing out for their vision and accomplishments, Shah and Mathews were among the 600 honorees selected from more than 15,000 nominations.
Shah says he was not the kid who started “inventing things” at a young age. He was known to skip his homework to hang out with friends. “But I’ve always been extremely curious and not afraid to act on that curiosity … I always wanted to do the next thing.
“I hate to let a good idea go to waste without giving it a shot.”
He always knew, he says, that he wanted to make a difference in the world.
“It’s exciting when you can evolve software to go beyond orthotics,” he says. “That shows there’s global impact.”
The company is evolving along with the software, as this year, the focus is on three vertical (markets) – footwear, eyewear and orthopedics. The same core software program serves as the starting point for all technologies, and the design automation, connection to the manufacturing process and analytics are changed for the different clients. At any one time, up to five clients are served by Fusiform expert teams. Payment is based on production, with a percentage going to the Baltimore company.
“As they do better, we do better,” Shah says.
The visionary hopes to continue expansion into 2018, with a larger team involved in more of the production process for clients. New technology is also on the horizon, with an expectation to digitally connect an entire factory, Shah says.
Although Fusiform is Shah’s first “real thing,” he has no time to sit back and rest on his laurels or even find amazement in his endeavors at the young age of 21.
“Things move so fast, I hardly get time to think about it,” he says. “We’re constantly learning as we go. I’m always aware that we have everything to learn. It keeps us humble and keeps us sharp. In these times, we will need to learn to keep things going and that’s exciting.” I95