A team developing a nonprofit to match amputees in Vietnam with used prosthetic devices was named the winner of this year’s Yale College Dean’s Challenge on Social Innovation. The Penta team includes cofounders Victor Wang (YC ’18) and Trang Duong, a junior at Brown University, as well as Henry Iseman (YC ’18). Duong is a Vietnam native, raised in Saigon, where she was exposed first-hand to the difficulties of limb disability. “I’ve witnessed social discrimination associated with disability and the hardships of being disabled in Vietnam,” Duong says. The three have been working on the project both in the U.S. and Vietnam for the past year and the venture has already been awarded a grant from the Clinton Global Foundation as well as Brown University’s Social Innovation Fellowship.
The Dean’s Challenge is a special designation given by Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway in partnership with the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute to one undergraduate social venture applying to the YEI Fellowship. Twenty teams met the criteria this year, which included addressing a serious global issue and proposing a startup solution that could improve a significant number of lives.
“Penta has set out to do important work,” says Dean Holloway. “By identifying sources for prosthetics and finding ways to streamline the process, Penta has improved amputees’ chances for receiving these life-altering devices.”
Penta is tackling a big problem—the lack of access to prosthetics in developing countries and the prohibitive costs to the people there who need them. According to the World Health Organization, there are 40 million amputees in the developing world and only 5% have access to prosthetic care. In Vietnam, there are 4 million amputees who need prosthetics and most of these patients cannot afford the typical $2,000-$10,000 required. Instead they must settle for low quality plastic or wood prosthetics. What the students discovered is that tens of thousands of high-end prosthetics are replaced each year in America, and many of them are lightly-worn and reusable but are left in storage or in homes—essentially wasted.
The team is amassing patients and outlets for used prosthetics via an online platform to ensure quality control and personalized service for both donors and recipients. Iseman has worked on tech startups in Estonia and London and says he is particularly interested in the intersection of healthcare and technology. “I was immediately gripped by the idea of bringing readily available aid to people in developing countries,” he says. Penta is piloting this platform this summer, and has developed a patient list of more than 1,000 amputees. And because their model relies on costs (in the hundreds, not thousands) being covered by patients, it’s scalable.
Wang says he hopes to devote himself to social entrepreneurship full time after graduating. “I’m inspired by the grassroots power of social ventures to address global disparities in health and economic status,” he says. “It’s great to see that our small, student-run social venture can actually make a difference and we hope to increase our impact with the help of our partners and mentors.”