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Interview with Sigune Choe (Straightwalk GmbH: VC – M&A – Consulting): People behind the Exoskeleton Industry – Series

In questa serie di brevi interviste, le presentiamo le persone che stanno dietro alle grandi aziende del mondo degli esoscheletri. Se vuole implementare con successo un esoscheletro industriale nella sua azienda, deve prestare attenzione a due punti:

1. scegliere la soluzione giusta, rispettivamente una soluzione che si adatta ai requisiti di tutte le oltre 75 soluzioni industriali e non la soluzione pubblicizzata con il maggior budget di marketing.

2. l'implementazione adeguatamente formata e accompagnata in azienda, in modo che le soluzioni siano anche sostenibilmente motivate intrinsecamente.

Quale sia la soluzione giusta, quindi, non si decide solo in base ai dettagli tecnici, ma anche quale sia l'azienda di fiducia. Per fidarsi di qualcuno, bisogna conoscere un po' meglio le persone che ci sono dietro. Questo è il caso in cui stiamo facendo queste interviste.

In queste interviste, le presentiamo le persone che si celano dietro le aziende, i brevetti e le invenzioni, per conoscerle meglio e per comprendere ancora meglio la spinta alla visione.

In this episode we talk to Sigune. She is the founder and ceo of an exoskeleton VC called Straightwalk. Sigune is specialized in investments, consulting and support of M&A transactions as well as fundraising support in the robotics, exoskeleton and human bionic industry. Further Sigune is one of our Board Members at Orthexo.

Thank you for the inverview, Sigune!

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Interview with Sigune Choe (Straightwalk GmbH: VC - M&A - Consulting): People behind the Exoskeleton Industry - Series 2


Chi è lei e cosa fa?

Sigune: “Hi Tom, thanks for having me. I am 37, married, mom to a 1 year old son and running StraightWalk since 2018, a global advisory and investment firm.

We are helping start-ups in the exoskeleton field to grow and exit. For example, we helped a Canadian healthcare exoskeleton firm with their market entry strategy and execution in Europe and an industrial exoskeleton firm, a Berkeley spin-off with the exit to a German orthotics firm, the market leader in the global O&P market.

Furthermore I am an expert advisor to the European Commission, supporting top selected and EU backed deep tech firms in robotics, drones, AI, space to get their early funding rounds (seed, seriesA) closed.”

Quando e dove è avvenuto il suo primo contatto con gli esoscheletri?

Sigune: “My first contact with exoskeletons was almost 10 years ago, when I was working in the automation industry. At that time there were just a few pioneers out there such as HOCOMA, EksoBionics and Laevo. Most of today’s start-ups were academia projects. A key bottleneck was the actuation and control of exoskeletons and the availability of suitable components on the market. Exoskeleton start-ups had to use “off the shelf” components from automotive suppliers or super expensive ones from the aerospace industry. My previous firm would develop different types of actuators customized for the emerging service robotics industry such as the first surgical robot, quadruped robots and also exoskeletons. As a manager in the corporate growth department, we were building businesses organically and inorganically and I was deeply involved in building a robotics business unit. We had projects with major leading exoskeleton firms and labs worldwide.”

Come pensa che si svilupperà il mercato tra 5 e 10 anni?

Sigune: “When I was attending a robotics conference in 2018 I had the honor to be on stage with the former head of robotics from Samsung, a Korean and Russian professor, and my mentor who is the “trailblazer” of wearable robotics. We were discussing whether active or passive exoskeletons make the race and we agreed there would be a variety of systems for many industries. Healthcare, elderly care, defense, industry and recreational sectors. This became true as we can see on your amazing Orthexo platform. We also believed that in 2021 the market would have exploded; this did not come true. COVID19 hit the exoskeleton industry hard. Most of the firms I am working with are still recovering. I wish that in 5-10 years everyone knows and has access to exoskeletons and that all these amazing exoskeleton manufacturers having great success – they so much deserve it!”

What are the biggest obstacles / bottlenecks you currently see in the distribution / sales of exoskeletons?

Sigune: “Focus and funding. Exoskeleton manufacturers receive a lot of request from small companies, selling one device is as costly and time consuming as selling in large scales. It also requires investment in professional sales and marketing people, funding which the manufacturers don’t have or rather invest in R&D and product development.”

Which changes do you see about the exoskeleton companies and the market in the last two years?

Sigune: “We see a big consolidation trend and large corporates such as Ottobock and Hilti entering the arena. Customers become more aware of the use of exoskeletons and are no longer buying them just for fun, curiosity or marketing purposes, but to actually use them. In the beginning, exoskeleton firms would sell to everyone and every industry, now they are more focused and industry-specific.”

What trends do you see in the tech bubble in the next five years? (not considered ai and exoskeletons)

Sigune: “There a many trends such as quantum computing, digital twins, nano technology, 4D printing which will transform industries in the coming years. Driven by global warming and war in Ukraine, new billion-dollar funds were recently launched such, as the German DTCF (DeepTech and Climate Tech Fund) and the NIF (Nato Innovation Fund). Also wearables and human augmentation will be on the agenda and used as so called, “Dual use Technology”. Further topics I am looking at besides robotics and AI, are neurotechnologies, advanced materials and drones.”

Ci dica qualcosa di lei che non ha rivelato altrove e che ci sorprende?

Sigune: “In my early days my life and passion was all about gymnastics. I was a semi-professional gymnast, training all week and attending competitions on the weekends. Later I did a trainer´s license and would train kids from 6 to12year-olds and would help them to win in competitions.

Actually many exoskeleton founders I know are great athletes in for example cross fit, rowing, climbing and skiing. You are a great athlete and boxer yourself. I think the passion for sports and an active lifestyle is what we share within the exoskeleton community.”

Qual è il modo migliore per spegnersi?

Sigune: “Playing with my gorgeous son.”

Con chi vorrebbe trascorrere una giornata?

Sigune: “With my mentor and “queen” of Wearable Robotics Dr. Lijin Aryananda. She is an incredible person, mom, “MIT” scientist and helped exoskeleton manufacturers both in the healthcare and industrial space to create outstanding and best-selling products. I greatly encourage you to interview her.”

What was your best moment at Straightwalk so far?

Sigune: “This is a really nice question which makes me think about delightful moments and motivates me to reflect on the past 5 years. One moment which I am very proud of was in 2020 during COVID. I was working with a Canadian firm and since they were not able to travel to Europe, I made an intensive online course with the team in Canada and became a sort of an expert in fitting the devices to patients. So although under lockdown, I was able to help implementing the product in one of the famous rehab clinics in Germany. One day the clinic called me to let me know that a device had broken and that I was immediately required to fix it as the patients were waiting for their rehabilitation sessions. Believe it or not, I was able to fix the robot in a dress and heels in record time. I have it on video!”

Is there a thesis about exoskeletons or their development that only you share and that others see quite differently, respectively that differs from many other theses?

Sigune: I don’t think so.”

At Least: How do you explain to your mom / dad what you do at StraightWalk?

Sigune: “Just like this: I am helping start-ups in the robotics field to grow. I think they were quite confused I chose a career in the industrial field. My mom expected me to become a violinist, artist or gymnast.”

About Straightwalk:

StraightWalk GmbH is a Munich based Global Advisory and investment firm that provides strategic, commercial, financial and smart investment advice to clients including large corporations, startups and the financial sector.


StraightWalk GmbH

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