Sibongile Mongadi was inspired by an encounter she had with an amputee to enter the field of prosthetics, which is still largely dominated by men. She told Vutivi News that prosthetics were expensive and difficult to access, and many amputees’ lives were hindered because they did not have prosthetic limbs. According to Mongadi, the journey to establishing her company, Uku’hamba Prosthetics and Orthotics (PTY) Ltd, started when she visited a hospital in 2018 where she met an amputee.
After having a conversation with him, she realised they faced a mountain of challenges. “The amputee I spoke with told me that he had been on the waiting list for a prosthetic limb for more than five years with no hope,” she said. “I spoke to the orthopedic doctor in the hospital and I was informed that due to a lack of manufacturing skills, the hospital orders prosthetics from overseas and these take time.”
Mongadi said that her background in 3D printing came in handy when she decided to start manufacturing prosthetic limbs. She registered her business in 2020 and set up a warehouse in Soweto. It took her two years to conduct research and get funding from friends and family before she started her company.
“We produced the prototype, and a lot of people realised the potential that my products had,” she said. “So I attended various pitching competitions and the proceedings I got from winning most of them enabled me to get the machinery needed to manufacture the prosthetics.” Mongadi employs four people. Two are bioengineers and two are part-time employees who assist the company in manufacturing prosthetics that require electronic components.
Mongadi has customers from across the country. “We approach the client and we try to understand why they need a prosthetic limb,” We then design according to the client’s specification and customise the limb, thus allowing the client to be part of the process,” she explained. “After designing the limb, we print it using 3D modelling software and equipment.”
She also said that she made the prosthetic limbs as accessible and as cost-effective as possible. “I have found that many people cannot afford them because of the high price tag and I wanted to change that,” Mongadi said. “I wanted to give people with limited mobility an opportunity to be something, get employment and give them that sense of independence.”
Mongadi’s hard work in prosthetics and 3D modelling has been recognised both locally and internationally. She has been in the Top 100 African startups in the innovation space on two occasions. She was also fortunate to receive a three-year contract with digital company Teraco, which funded her and gave her a contract to produce free prosthetic limbs for those in need. “With this funding and this contract, I will be able to change three lives at a time, and hopefully help as many amputees in the country as I can for the duration of the contract,” she said.