Next up in our new blog series is our 2022 XTC Harman Startup Challenge Winner – Abby by GoGo Tech!
Versatile, affordable powered wheelchairs with companion app for everyone who has need.
Six Questions for John deBenedette, CEO and Founder, ABBY-by-GOGOTECH of New Jersey
John DeBenedette, is an experienced founder and a wheelchair user on/off since an accident in 1985. John has 35 years of experience in technology business including 20 as a startup executive. John was CTO and CCO at INTTRA.com, the largest multi-carrier e-commerce platform for the ocean shipping industry- acquired by E2Open in 2018. ABBY is his third startup and the second aiming to disrupt a huge but deeply flawed industry.
1. What problem is that GoGoTech’s ABBY product is solving and how?
Currently, motorized assistive mobility devices (aka powered wheelchairs or “scooters”) are marketed as FDA certified medical devices to third-party insurance payers and distributed through complex healthcare bureaucracies. This has subsidized high prices, creating un-natural scarcity and lower volumes. That, in turn, has dissipated all incentive to upgrade technology. This means 1980s technology is only available to the wealthy or well-insured, leaving only manual wheelchairs for most people. ABBY is a new personal electric vehicle for adults with reduced mobility that is safe, advanced, versatile, portable and affordable for everyone who needs one, regardless of income or insurance.
2. What is your background that led you to developing ABBY?
In the first dot-com boom, I spent about 20 years in 2 startups dealing with the latest in IoT, data analytics and logistics management, both of which eventually enjoyed sweet exits. Also, one of my hobbies is race cars, racing classic Datsuns and BMWs, so that gave me a good feel for mechanics and alot of the adaptations that racing requires like quick-disconnect, hot-swap, etc. Personally, I suffered a severe leg injury back almost 40 years ago, so I have direct experience with how difficult manual wheelchairs are to use independently. And finally, in the late 20-teens, I was helping a friend shop for a powered wheelchair, and I saw him spend more time locked in battle with his insurance than shopping and I knew I was looking at a huge business opportunity hiding in plain sight. And it was one where I could bring together all of my prior experience in IT, data, mechanics and, yes, racing, as well as managing successful startups, to undertake some real innovation in personal mobility.
3. What is unique about your technology and what is its validation status?
The way to think about this is, rather than lighten up or refine the well-known “scooter” which is kind of laid out like a small golfcart, what we’ve done is enhance and up-content the lightweight folding wheelchairs with which many folks may be familiar. The centuries-old rear-wheel-drive/smaller-front-caster format is by far the most versatile layout for personal mobility, allowing for example, pivoting in place rather than negotiating a “turning radius”. We have updated this with cameras and sensors using machine vision and IoT to enable you to see behind when backing up, remote control and hands-free robotic driving in certain situations. Also quick-release components, lightweight brushless motors and lightweight and swappable lithium batteries atop a folding frame make ABBY as versatile and portable as possible. Smart push-rim technology enables power-assisted self-propulsion (like pedal assist on an e-bike). But what is further unique in the market is that really ABBY is a 2-in-1 product. It’s both a better wheelchair for moving-while-sitting, but it can also be an unoccupied personal companion that can, for example, go to the front door and receive packages while it’s SaaS App can provide tracking, reminding and other services to the user or several users, along with over-the-air (OTA) updates by subscription from the cloud.
4. What are your Go-To-Market ideas and traction received so far?
One of the barriers in this space has been the big hurdle of getting certification as an FDA Class 2 Medical Device or, in Europe, ISO 13485. So, we plan to launch without those certifications to a more limited market. We can present ABBY as simply a personal convenience tool with clear indications that it is NOT a medical aide, NOT for medical use, NOT endorsed for impaired users, but that does not preclude people from buying another handy appliance much as they would a smart tablet or a Roomba vacuum. And direct B2C makes it far easier for individuals, like my good friend, to quickly and affordably acquire our product.
Validation has been very encouraging. We participated in the Techstars Future for Longevity Accelerator which provided alot of assistance and validation. We then launched a market study campaign online through Facebook and in just 6 weeks received thousands of inquiries, had nearly 200 people participate in focus groups that really helped us refine features and pricing. Overall that campaign generated a waitlist of over 1,500 and even dozens of pre-order deposits!
5. What’s next?
So much! First, we’ve just launched our community funding round on WeFunder (join in!) and this will give us capital to manufacture our pre-orders and inventory. 2023 is going to be our getting-to-market year with a road-show, capturing unboxing and on-boarding videos with our pre-order customers and establishing our service and repair operations. We are also going to heavily develop that “personal companion” mobile app and chip away on our software business roadmap. And, while selling as a personal appliance, also chipping away at eventually obtaining those Class 2 and 13485 certifications, all building to a major commercial launch in 2024.
6. Tell us about your experience with XTC and what were the benefits/takeaways?
XTC 2022 and winning the recent HARMAN-XTC challenge which led directly to exhibiting at TechCrunch Disrupt – these have all been fantastic opportunities to hone our pitch, while the PR and visibility couldn’t have come at a better time to boost that WeFunder financing round mentioned before. It’s been super helpful to pitch along side so many great startup companies to such elite and corporate investors. The events format and excellent production quality and the XTC team is top notch!
Interviewed and edited by John Martin
Together We Can Empower Global Innovation!
Enter the XTC competition
Join us to excite and impact
Help shape a better future