How Motivo Is Reinventing the World of Mobility Aids
Updated: Nov 12, 2021
Nancy Griffin interviews Motivo co-founder Jeremy Knopow, a product designer & mechanical engineer named in 170 patents.
NG: Tell us about your background as a consumer products designer for Fortune 100 companies. Why the shift to becoming an entrepreneur focusing on new generation mobility aids?
JK: Well, I was one of those annoying kids who always knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. From the age of four, I knew I wanted to be an inventor of some sort. There's a caricature a mall artist did of me when I was eight years old, sitting at a workbench tinkering away with something in an artist's smock. When I was inventing, time would just sort of disappear. I took that as a cue that that is what I should be doing and went about educating myself on how to do that ever since.
My 25+ year career has been developing products for large companies including Kohler, SC Johnson, Fiskars, and Procter and Gamble. I also have a bent for social action, so I have chosen purposeful projects whenever possible and applied my design skills to broader problems ranging from hot showers for 9/11 rescue workers, improving sanitation in the slums of Nairobi, to fighting malaria in Ghana.
In 2012, following my late father’s battle with ALS, I co-founded Motivo, Inc. with my co-worker Jennifer Harris to reinvent the world of mobility aids. We were both working at SC Johnson and coincidentally both had family members using walkers around that time. At the end of the day, we ended up on this space because we wanted to do some good, and the category is ripe for innovation. I also wanted to fulfill a promise I made to my dad about reinventing this category.
NG: Before we dig into Motivo, how did your project getting hot showers to the NYC rescue workers after the 9/11 tragedy come about?
JK: When the towers came down, I was watching the TV footage of rescue workers covered in soot and grime getting hosed off in these kiddie pools with literally a garden hose or fire truck. I was working for Kohler designing showers, and it occurred to me that there's got to be a way to give them a better shower than a kiddie pool and a hose when these folks are risking their lives.
I had this idea of taking an empty semi-truck off of our lot and converting it to a self-contained heated and air-conditioned mobile shower truck that we could deliver to Ground Zero so the rescue workers had a comfortable place to take a hot shower. I spent that night sketching out how it could work and sent a three-page proposal to David Kohler. To my surprise he agreed, and we had the truck built in a week and delivered at the site a few days later. The Red Cross maintained it for six months, and it provided over a quarter million showers.
When I look back, I think that experience gave me the audacity to take on some bigger, bolder problems and have a real impact on them. The mobility industry is ripe for innovation, with antiquated solutions dating back to the 1940’s.
NG: What was the process of developing your first product, the Motivo Tour?
JK: The bare bones walker as we know it today was originally created for injured war veterans in the world wars. It wasn't really supposed to leave hospitals but found its way out into the world. Because Medicare creates an artificially price-fixed market, there wasn't a lot of incentive for companies to innovate in the space—unlike every other consumer product category that I've worked in my career. We needed to completely “reinvent the wheel.”
Motivo’s innovation process started with two years of interviews with users of mobility products, doctors, nurses, rehab operators, physical therapists, caregivers, and senior living community operators, asking: “If you were to start from a blank slate, what would you ideally like to have in a daily mobility product?”
We heard a number of things over and over again, that ultimately led us to our design criteria. First and foremost was the ability to stand up straight—people fear being hunched over. They want a place to carry a cup of coffee or a plate of food. They want convenient storage. Most importantly, they don’t want to feel like a hospital patient every time they walk out the door.
Our goal was to design a product that people could actually feel good about using—that would add to their pride and dignity versus subtracting from it. Our reinvented walker, the Motivo Tour, features a sleek, colorful design. Enhanced functionality includes an upright stance to prevent hunching over, a flip out seat, built-in tray and storage, and the ability to easily store by folding tightly. It is protected by 17 US and international patents. Truly one of a kind.
People are writing essays for their reviews on our website about how the Tour has been life-changing. We hear how much it means to them to be able to, for the first time, go to the end of their driveway and get the mail by themselves, or they're able to go to the kitchen and get their own plate of food without having to rely on somebody. Those are the touching things that make me think I'm getting closer to fulfilling the promise I made to my dad.
NG: Why are you interested in partnering with senior living communities now?
JK: We have recently solved our biggest problem to date, which was being able to make enough Tours to keep up with demand, by ramping up and reinventing our supply chain and production process, as the only walker company in the USA.
I think there's a huge opportunity for the senior living operators to bring the Motivo Tour into their communities, either on an individual basis, or as a custom branded fleet of their own. We designed the capability to co-brand into the product. The logoed custom Motivo Tour is a vehicle for senior living communities to showcase their brand literally and figuratively in a physical form.
Beyond marketing there is real financial benefit to introducing Motivo into a senior living community—fall prevention. The medical costs of falls are staggering, and a real cost to senior living operators. Fifty billion is spent on medical costs related to non-fatal fall injuries in older adults. Our product is proven to reduce falls because of its increased functionality, but also because user compliance skyrockets when someone is actually proud to use the Tour. My grandmother fell and broke her hip in her own house because she was too ashamed to use her walker!
I think we will see senior living communities curating best-in-class products for their residents. If there is something out there that can improve quality of life, they can only add value by educating residents about it and making it available. We're excited that we finally have the capacity to be able to develop long term relationships with our senior living partners.
NG: Tell us something personal about yourself?
JK: I enjoy running ultra-distance (50mi +) trail races, as well as spending time with my wife and two young children and dogs. We reside in the heart of the Midwest, Wisconsin, USA.
NG: Jeremy, what is your motto?
JK: “There's got to be a better way…”