After almost 20 years of trying to develop a mobile gym and fitness analytics machine, John van Niekerk and Newtown Fortuin are still at it — after selling their cars and ploughing hundreds of thousands of rands into their invention.

This time, the two — who run Vekta Innovations — are edging closer to finally seeing their innovation in production — after Volkswagen (VW) SA recently expressed an interest in using the machine to carry out mandatory health checks on their 4000 employees. The two argue that the machine, dubbed the KineDek, is a convenient solution for portable, efficient, objective physical condition assessments, rehabilitation and general exercise. It can be adjusted to allow users to perform various kinds of exercises — from flexing, lifting dead weight lifts and making curls, to rowing — all on a small board the size of a tread mill. When you’re done you just fold it up.

Interest from large corporates

The two inventors are edging closer to finally seeing their innovation in production after VW SA expressed an interest in using their machine. VW is keen on the machine because it allows users to get a rich amount of data. By measuring for example the strength of a hand grip, one is able to gauge whether someone might have carpal tunnel syndrome.

Such testing could save large companies thousands if not millions of rands in injury claims, by uncovering physical health concerns before they result in an employee filing a claim when they injure themselves at work. While the two sent Ventureburn a copy of a video in which a user demonstrates the machine, they asked that this not be shared with anyone else, fearing that their idea could be stolen. The two intend to file an international patent application in Vienna next month, which they hope will offer the idea more protection.

Where the journey started

Fortuin, a former junior Mr South Africa and fitness nut, came up with the idea about 18 years ago, when he got thinking that there had to be a way to create a mobile gym, one you can simply carry off where ever you need it. While still just a concept, his idea won endorsements from Professor Tim Noakes and Emiritus Professor Kit Vaughan. At the time Fortuin floated the idea with 3D designer Van Niekerk, who has been chiefly responsible for the design of the machine. For the first seven years the two battled to find the right people and technology to make it work. Funders were also not interested and the Department of Science and Technology’s Innovation Fund turned them down, when they were looking for a R15-million investment.

Then, a few years ago the two won praise for their idea from renowned SA biokineticist professor Johannes Hendrik Blaauw. After spending years on the project, the two eventually decided to do everything themselves. Fortuin taught himself to code, and in so doing was able to write the machine’s six different computer programmes to enable it to speak to a cloud-based analytics platform, to which the data read by the machine is sent.

Seed Funding

It was on the back of VW’s interest that technology incubator Savant gave the company a R774 400 seed grant from the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) late last year. The startup, which the two registered in 2015, is one of four companies that recently landed TIA grants from Savant. The startup aims to use the grant to build upgraded prototype machines, file additional patents and conduct assessments in collaboration with a leading biokineticist firm in South Africa. On the strength of interest from VW South Africa Savant also offered an investment in the project. And next week Fortuin and Van Niekerk are due to visit the Sports Science Institute in Cape Town to carry out a calibration of the machine.

But the two aren’t just stopping at supplying corporates looking to cut health claims. Fortuin believes the machine will have wider appeal than just corporates and medical insurers looking to reduce claims, he reckons ordinary consumers will also one day be keen on it. He points to a US company that just netted $50-million from investors to roll out a similar machine, to consumers, in the US. In a sensem, this helps validate the international applicability of Vekta’s solution. With health and well-being growing in importance and the tech sector’s obsession to prolong life, the machine may have a promising future.

This is an adaptation of an article entitled, “Almost 20 years on, two SA inventors haven’t given up bid to launch portable gym” on the Venture Burn website.