“Bionics is not to play Iron Man, but to be ‘googleable'”. Mohamed Dhaouafi smiles. Because the young Tunisian engineer badly needs a window on the world in his small startup Cure Bionics based in Sousse, on the coast Tunisian.
There, in this den, simultaneously an electronics, mechanics, artificial intelligence and design workshop, in the middle of bags of screws and connector wires, electrodes, computer screens and micro- DIY tools, he has been developing a bionic hand for five years, a prosthesis made in 3D printing. Revolutionary in approach.
“I’m not looking to make the most sophisticated prosthesis. I want to democratize the prosthesis, make it robust, adaptable like a belt for growing children, financially accessible and quickly available”. The starting price is €3,000, ie four to five times cheaper than the first prices on the market, for products intended primarily for Africa and the Middle East.
Multiply connections with the brain
Its multi-electrode technology allows it to multiply the connections to finely capture and amplify, for each person, the best electrical signals that the brain transmits to the muscles to contract or relax them. So that the hand is able to carry out the most diverse tasks, both for clicking on a computer mouse and for catching large objects, like the smallest ones, without breaking them, crushing them or dropping them.
This achievement earned Mohamed Dhaouafi a range of trophies. The engineer was notably noticed in 2019 by the Obama Foundation for Africa and was distinguished among young entrepreneurs under 35 by the prestigious Technology Review from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“With a good prosthesis, these talented people will excel”
Everything had started modestly. A group of six friends gathered around a project during their studies. “One of us had a 12-year-old cousin who was born without a hand, she couldn’t go to school and had to wait until she reached adult height to be fitted with a prosthesis. It was so shocking that we decided to design one. »
The fine team was quickly shattered. Most of the students went abroad for a career in engineering. Mohamed Dhaouafi, “angry”, has given up his end-of-study project in Canada to pursue the adventure alone within the school of industrial electronics and embedded systems engineering in Sousse. ” I know the story, always moving, of each of the people, those who have a birth defect, the injured and the amputated because of illnesses. If given a good prosthesis, these talented people will excel. »
The young thirty-year-old is now supported by four engineers and is looking to recruit marketing, quality and purchasing skills. “You can’t imagine how hard it is to find talent. All have the ambition to leave Tunisia,” he is saddened. He himself was assiduously canvassed by Business France, the agency responsible for France’s international development, in search of high-potential projects.
“Mobility is crucial to meet the right people”
Despite a Tunisian law favoring startups and hosting Cure Bionics in a state business incubator, Mohamed Dahouafi “trouble a lot”. The 90 different components that make up the prosthesis, hard or flexible, all biocompatible and eco-responsible, are so specific that most of them cannot be found on the Tunisian market. They must therefore be imported, with all that entails of hazards, delays and problems with customs.
“Mobility is crucial for meeting the right people. I missed many opportunities for lack of a visa, even to go to France. It’s a nightmare. This creates a real gap between entrepreneurs in Tunisia and those who are elsewhere, he is indignant. The “made in Tunisia” is not a promising label, Tunisia is a small country at risk, not very credible for investors. »
So Mohamed Dhaouafi, he too plans to leave, “like all Tunisians”. Not for the call of the sea. “I don’t want to be emotional. It is a strategic decision for the success of the project”. It straddles the two shores of the Mediterranean. One foot for research and development in France, one foot for production in Tunisia. And a first pilot project with Rwanda to test the feasibility of creating a remote prosthesis. Mohamed Dhaouafi has no doubts about the bright future of Cure Bionics. “My parents are more stressed than me! »
His inspiration – “Start with why” by Simon Sinek
Mohamed Dhaouafi reads little. But The Why (start with why, Ed. Performance, 2015) by Simon Sinek served as his guide. The lessons on management and motivation of the American-British speaker are followed by millions of people. “When you start a business, most of the time you focus on the product. But in business, it is fundamental to think about why. Why do we undertake such and such a thing? Mohamed Dhaouafi understood from reading Simon Sinek that“You can’t change the world, but you can change a person’s life”. And he fully experiences the fact of “doing good also to do good to oneself”.
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Tunisia: Mohamed Dhaouafi, the man with the golden hand
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