Born out of a college dorm room, Penta Prosthetics is a social venture started by three friends. Led by its co-founder and CEO Trang Duong, a graduate of Brown University, Penta Prosthetics operates between Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and New York, USA. The company serves to bring high-quality, low-cost prosthetic care to people with disabilities in Vietnam by refurbishing equipment in the United States.
According to global medical surveys, it’s estimated there are more than six million people with disabilities in Vietnam, many of whom are victims of traffic accidents and the legacies of war. A large percentage of this community lack prosthetic care due to medical costs.
Meanwhile, every year, tens of thousands of prosthetic devices are replaced in the U.S. and cannot be resold in the country due to liability and regulatory issues. Trang and her team believed that the combination of these two problems can become one innovative solution.
Having recently relocated back home to Vietnam, we had the opportunity to meet with Trang and co-founder Victor Wang, and team member Henry Iseman—who spoke with us remotely from New York, to learn more about Penta Prosthetics’ social venture and vision.
How did the idea of Penta Prosthetics first come together?
Trang: Growing up in Vietnam I witnessed firsthand how difficult it was to get access to prosthetic care here. During the summer of my sophomore year in college, my co-founder and I spent some time in Vietnamese hospitals talking to doctors and amputees. We learned that millions lacked access to prosthetic care and that the main barrier is cost. A set of prosthetics ranges from USD $2,000 – $15,000.
At the same time, we discovered the tremendous amount of valuable, used medical equipment in the U.S. that could be refurbished. Through Penta Prosthetics, we could connect Vietnam and the U.S. to create a positive change in both countries.
What main issues does Penta have to overcome in order to scale?
Henry: In the U.S., we are aiming to expand our partnerships with clinic chains and hospitals so that we can increase our rate of collection. The challenge is to get our message out there and inspire people and institutions to take action.
Victor: The key to the entire operation is finding strong partners. On the Vietnam side, we have found suitable organizations which have the infrastructure and capability to distribute and fit our refurbished devices and to help amputees rehabilitate and regain mobility.
We also collect metrics on the durability and quality of the refurbished devices from our partners’ feedback so we can improve and maintain high standards.
Tell us more about the Penta volunteer program. What was the main goal in creating the volunteer program?
Victor: We wanted to introduce the idea of social entrepreneurship to students in Vietnam through the Penta volunteer program. I think the idea of creating social change through entrepreneurship is an empowering one and we want to share our experience.
In our five-day program, students are able to learn about amputees’ lives and challenges and gain insight into the prosthetic industry by talking to physicians in Vietnam and innovators in the US. With these programs, we hope to reduce the social stigma against people with disabilities through conversations and education.
Tell us about the most memorable experience your team has shared with Penta.
Trang: We’ve had so many memorable experiences with hundreds of individuals throughout our time working in the amputee community. One of the first amputees I met was Thanh. He was 19 at the time and had recently lost his leg during a motorbike accident. With limited mobility and no prosthetic leg, he couldn’t go back to school. We were able to provide him with a prosthetic leg in our program and he was able to go back to school, graduate, and now he has opened his own cafe-shop in Binh Duong. We’ve become great friends and I still follow his posts on Facebook every day.
What’s next for Penta?
Trang: We’re also working on building a lower cost prosthetic model that can be manufactured locally here in Vietnam by partnering with our friend Alex Yang at Harvard Medical School and the MIT Media Lab. The end goal is to locally manufacture high-quality and affordable prosthetics.
Henry: We are scaling operations both in the US and in Vietnam. We hope to establish Penta in Vietnam as a successful case study and expand internationally.