Startups that startle

WHILL’s new wheels
Friday, February 13, 2015

Editor's note: This is the first of two stories on new startups with HME products. Next week: Metamason transforms CPAP mask design.

SAN FRANCISCO – WHILL’s Model A personal mobility device is raising eyebrows in the HME industry, as much for its $10,000 price tag as for its sleek design and advanced technology.

But that’s to be expected, says Greg Moore, the company’s director of business development.

“With new products that are new ideas, you have to create new markets and new channels,” said Moore, who used to work for Drive Medical. “It’s a work in progress.”

WHILL, whose founders and engineers hail from the likes of Toyota and Nissan, recently closed $11 million in Series A funding from, among others, Scott McNealy the co-founder and former CEO of Sun Microsystems. The funding will help the company to manufacture its first full run of 250 devices in the next couple of months.

WHILL has been selling the devices direct to consumers (there are 50 in the field in Japan and the U.S.), but it also wants to build a distribution network. Moore says HME providers could be a “good channel” for us, but it has to be the right provider.

“This is not an insurance product and it’s a high-ticket item,” he said. “We need to find providers with the right comfort level and business model.”

But for the right provider, the Model A—which has all directional front wheels that allow the device to “glide on the spot,” four wheel drive, a mouse-type controller, and Bluetooth and GPS capabilities—could be a game changer, says Chris Koyama, marketing director.

“The technology is really unique,” he said.