Penta, a Yale project that matches amputees in Vietnam with used prosthetic devices, has won the annual Yale College Dean’s Challenge on Social Innovation.
The Dean’s Challenge, a designation awarded by Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway in partnership with the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, is given to an undergraduate venture that addresses a critical global challenge. Penta, which was co-founded by Victor Wang ’18 and Trang Duong, a junior at Brown, was chosen out of 20 eligible projects, according to a press release from the YEI. As the winner of the challenge, Penta’s team — which also includes Henry Iseman ’18 — will receive a spot in the YEI Summer Fellowship, an eight-week intensive summer program that includes a $15,000 stipend and access to mentorships and corporate partners, according to Cassandra Walker Harvey, associate director of social entrepreneurship at the YEI.
“We’re a social venture that addresses the access to prosthetic care in Vietnam at the moment,” said Wang, a former staff reporter for the News who co-founded Penta last year. “We were thinking of different models of addressing this need to bring high-quality and low-cost prosthetic equipment to people with disability in the country. The model we’ve been using right now is to collect used prosthetics and to remodel them for patients.”
Wang explained that prosthetic device users often need to change or replace their devices due to lifestyle changes or fitting issues. Although many prosthetics are lightly used, legislation in the United States prevents individuals from donating their used prosthetic devices. This creates an excess supply of used prosthetics in the United States, with no efficient channel for repurposing. Wang explained the Penta team connected this supply with the demand for prosthetics in Vietnam.
According to Duong, the demand for prosthetic devices exists in Vietnam for a variety of reasons.
“I am originally from Ho Chi Minh City and I’ve witnessed firsthand the challenges and difficulties of people there to access good quality prosthetic care,” she said. “[T]here is a high concentration of people with disabilities in the country due to the legacies of war as well as a high rate of traffic accidents from motorbikes.”
Wang added that those who donate their used prosthetics in the United States receive a short profile of the person in Vietnam who has been fitted with it, with the idea being to establish an emotional connection between people across the globe.
He also noted that normally patients in Vietnam would have to pay between $1,000 and $1,500 for a prosthetic device, versus $200 if done through Penta, which includes customization. So far, the team has fitted 31 individuals in Vietnam with used prosthetics and hopeto fit an additional 200 people this coming summer.
According to Wang, reusing prosthetics has been Penta’s short-term goal. However, the team’s long-term goal is to design their own prosthetic device for manufacture in Vietnam. Prosthetics in the United States are based on western designs and may sometimes be disconnected from what those in Vietnam want.
“There’s a clear market: There’s an inherent need for prosthetics in Vietnam based on the circumstances the country has faced in the past,” said Onyeka Obiocha, social entrepreneurship fellow at the Yale Center for Business and the Environment. “Using the wasteful processes here in the United States, Penta has created a pipeline to provide prosthetics to these individuals in Vietnam. Inherently, the business model works: There’s a need, and you have an innovative model to fill this need.”
In his role as social entrepreneurship fellow, Obiocha, who has worked with Penta since last fall, has connected the social venture with community partners as well as resources inside and outside of Yale.
According to Harvey, Penta stood out from other social ventures because the idea focuses on a unique problem that the team understands very thoroughly. Harvey added that Duong and Wang are knowledgeable about Vietnam’s cultural context, which informs their work.
“We’re really excited about the prospects of them not just repurposing prosthetics but also how they can potentially manufacture low-cost devices to help the same sets of people, either in-country or potentially expanding beyond Vietnam and looking at other parts of southeast Asia,” Harvey added.
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