Technology & Development
Family values at the heart of global rehab robotics
As one of the early pioneers in the field of rehab tech, THERA-Trainer continues to expand internationally on the strength of the expertise and reputation it has built over the past 32 years. We meet CEO Dr. Jonathan Kopf, who discusses his pride at being at the helm of one of the last family-owned companies in the fast-growing sector.
“I don’t think my father ever really thought of the scale we’d be working on as a business, more than 30 years later. His aim was to do rehabilitation better using technology and to help people live their lives.” And from the creation of the first device in 1990 to enable wider access to tech-led rehab – then in its infancy as an industry – Peter Kopf lay the foundations of THERA-Trainer, now a globally successful business and pioneer in rehabilitation robotics. With an array of products for lower limb rehabilitation – all of which are designed and manufactured in-house at its base in Southern Germany – now in use in 70 countries internationally, THERA-Trainer is also making waves around the world with its Complete Solution, a specially-devised and evidence-based treatment programme which is consistently delivering positive outcomes in gait improvement. Regarded as one of the leaders in the fast-developing rehab tech sector, THERA-Trainer remains distinct from its competitors as one of the last family-owned companies, now being run by the second generation of the Kopf family, with Peter’s son, Dr Jonathan Kopf, taking the reins as CEO and overseeing its ongoing expansion. And it is both its product suite – which is set to see new additions in the near future – and its family business ethos, which is at the heart of the trusting relationships it builds with clients worldwide, which Dr Kopf believes are crucial to THERA-Trainer’s growth. The latest step in that journey saw it establish a UK base through the acquisition of Medicotech. “Since my father made the first prototype in 1990, we have had the values of ‘safe, easy, effective and affordable’. I think particularly easy and affordable stand out in the industry today,” says Dr Kopf, who joined the family business after almost a decade at McKinsey.
For us, the proudest moments are when patients are able to celebrate a milestone.
“We’re proud to have the easiest to use robotic devices in the market. We believe that technology should make a therapist’s life easier, not more complicated. So designing our devices to be as easy to use and quick to setup as possible is one of our core goals and achievements. And while we produce very high quality, premium robotic solutions, we try to sell them to hospitals at an affordable price that allows many of them to acquire our technology. For the cost of a single exoskeleton, you can buy our Complete Solution, covering the entire continuum of therapy. My father was motivated by bringing better equipment to the industry and to the people who need it, and that remains central to what we do. For us, the proudest moments are when patients are able to celebrate a milestone.
We have people who are training in our THERA-Trainer lyra who haven’t walked for so long, and then they discover how it feels to walk again. Seeing their joy and knowing what that means to them is what it’s about. Having been one of the early major players in the rehab tech market, THERA-Trainer is uniquely placed to see how the industry has developed around it. I think looking at the industry, there are a few companies who shaped the industry landscape that we see today,” says Dr Kopf. “We are innovators coming from sensor-based cycling and balancing technology with a much broader robotics portfolio than we did at the start, but it’s not us alone – other companies have, for example, successfully pioneered exoskeletons. Back then, it was very different being a pioneer, it was the whole concept of being a self-made businessman rather than a situation where you get millions of dollars from investors which you can then invest in research and development as well as marketing. Instead, you had to have a sustainable business model, everything comes from your own pocket. Nowadays, it does feel quite unique to be a family company, where the family is hands-on and has been for over 30 years. We have built up the business ourselves, but now the field is much more crowded. It’s to the benefit of every patient if there are more solutions out there for them. And the further we push robotics in rehabilitation as an industry combined, the more we can achieve for the patients.” In delivering that, the ongoing expansion of THERA-Trainer continues at pace, but for the past few years has focused particularly on key markets like the US, UK, France and its native Germany, where it is proud to be headquartered and call home to its 130-strong team.
Being a family-owned company means our family name is tied to the brand, which means the quality we provide is extremely important to us. Everything is made in Germany, and will continue to be so.
Its presence in the UK was bolstered recently with the creation of a dedicated UK division through the acquisition of Medicotech, a longstanding partner of THERA-Trainer. “We have realised that for some markets, it‘s very important to be there directly, instead of only going through partners,” says Dr Kopf. “We have countries around the world that we‘re selling to with partners, and generally that works really well. But there are some markets where you simply feel like the potential is much higher, if you can actually go there yourself and offer the entire portfolio to the market directly, then that serves both us and the customers in these markets. I think that is important in building a brand in a significant market, that the relevant people get to know you and the business and probably see for themselves the big difference between you and other competitors who exist. We have worked in the UK for many years and been very successful, but that is why we took that step (in acquiring Medicotech). That got us to the point to actually say this is a really important core market that we want to dedicate our attention to. I believe that our growth will accelerate in the years ahead as a result. By building subsidiaries, and creating the accompanying brand recognition and trust, the increasingly international THERA-Trainer business remains proudly based in Germany. Being a family-owned company means our family name is tied to the brand, which means the quality we provide is extremely important to us. Everything is made in Germany, and will continue to be so,” says Dr Kopf. “This makes it more challenging to compete with companies producing in low cost countries. But we believe customers value the quality of ‘Made in Germany’ and we’re ensuring through efficient production processes to make this quality level ‘affordable’ to clinicians and patients. We collaborate with universities and researchers across the world and, for example, also have a think tank with brilliant researchers in Slovenia for early stage research and prototyping – but our core is in Southern Germany and will continue to stay here in the future.”
While the world has changed significantly since the inception of THERA-Trainer – not least in terms of the rise of rehab robotics and the sizeable investment that can attract – Dr Kopf is committed to ensuring the business stays true to its independent roots. “We have some exciting product launches this year and next, and we will be building upon our THERA-Soft software solution to improve that and bring even more into it,” says Dr Kopf. “Amongst others, we’re researching into artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality, and I think there are a lot of very, very interesting directions to come in the next few years, some very positive changes. But one thing that won‘t change is that we will stay a family-owned business. It‘s always sad to see competitors who have really good products get sold, and then resold, and you see how things often decline. We want to stay as a long-term reliable partner, which means we need to continue with our sustainable business model. So I don‘t think we‘ll join the race for acquiring lots of investment – we want to stay independent. That, I firmly believe, is the best way not only for us, but for our partners and all of those who need it most.”
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