Their goal: a better future for people suffering from cognitive illnesses

Digital healthcare start-up ichó has its sights set on the international market

They’ve got the drive, they’ve got the network and they’ve got an innovative healthcare product aimed at improving the lives of people living with cognitive illness and their loved ones. With Metropolis Ruhr as a launch pad, the start-up company ichó wants to contribute to the system of care – worldwide. Programmed with extensive software, their interactive therapy ball can mean a new form of communication, closeness and memory, especially for people suffering from dementia.

The three young master’s graduates Steffen Preuss, Mario Kascholke and Leftheri Efthimiadis have recently learned that their idea – created out of personal experience – really does have potential for the international market. They were the only German start-up invited by the Institute for Human Centered Design to present their innovation in Washington, where they displayed their handball-sized sphere next to a care robot from Japan valued at 15 million euros. This experience has allowed them to think bigger. And it continues. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has already nominated the interdisciplinary team to represent Germany in Tallinn at the EU competition ‘Ideas from Europe’.

The three ichó inventors hail from the Ruhr area and plan to establish their business here as well. They have strong roots in the region and sense that there is fresh wind on the scene that has already offered them many advantages along their journey. As participants in the Social Impact Lab in Duisburg, they had the opportunity to become professionalised, make contacts and expand their network. It was at the Innovation Day event hosted by Business Metropole Ruhr’s where they met their developer for a new outer shell. And they are currently pitching ichó on an international stage at the Dortmunder U event facility at the RuhrSummit 2017, the largest start-up conference in the region. The programme includes a ‘matchmaking’ event with possible investors.

‘Of course there are obstacles: finances, time, uncertainty ... but we are optimistic,’ says Preuss, ‘because we know from personal experience why we are doing this and that it works. And that gives us strength. Our vision is to implement ichó worldwide so that new possibilities for communication enable ill people and their loved ones to connect with each other again and so they don’t grow apart.’