How Leeds-based COVVI is designing and producing a world leading bionic hand

As a top paralympic swimmer, Jessica Smith has a passion for destroying barriers that others might find insurmountable

But perhaps her greatest triumph came on the day she held her children’s hands, using technology created in Yorkshire.

For this breakthrough, she is happy to thank the Leeds-based company COVVI, which designs and produces a bionic hand. Under the leadership of entrepreneur Simon Pollard, COVVI could be on course to become a household name.

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The company has used premium materials, digital motors and cutting-edge designs to deliver a medical device that is creating headlines around the world. Established in 2017, by group CEO Mr Pollard, Leeds-based COVVI designs and manufactures the bionic hand for patients who have had their hand amputated or were born with congenital upper limb deficiencies.

Mr Pollard said: “Our mission was to design and create the number one bionic hand in the world, to achieve this, we had to ensure our designs were world-leading in their capability, personalised to every user, and able to withstand the strength and speed pressures required of a hand for everyday life.

"One of our advocates is Jessica Smith, a paralympic swimmer from Australia who was born with a congenital upper limb deficiency. I remember watching her swim as part of the Australian paralympic swimming team and her being a real inspiration.

“Who would have thought that 20 years later that Jessica would become an advocate for a bionic hand business that I had formed?”

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Mr Pollard contacted Jessica through social media towards the end of 2021 to see if she wished to collaborate with COVVI.

Group CEO Simon Pollard,Group CEO Simon Pollard,
Group CEO Simon Pollard,

"I flew to Dubai where I met one of the best prosthetists in the Middle East, Charl Stenger at OrthoMena who had 25 years’ experience in prosthetics,’’ he recalled. “We met with Jessica and explained the long-term benefits of bilateral homeostasis and how using a COVVI hand would be better for her spine and neuro development later on in life.

“Having lived without a prosthetic for almost 30 years, it was clear that Jessica was well placed to benefit from the new functionality that was available. However, the major role that she would play by wearing COVVI's bionic hand was to help other individuals around the world who needed the hand, and didn’t know this type of technology was available.

"Six months later, Jessica has now got full use of her COVVI hand which she says has changed her life on so many levels,'' said Mr Pollard. "She is able to do the simplest of things, such as hold her children's hands when they go to the shops, or open the gate to her own back garden. COVVI and its technology has made a significant difference to Jessica who hasn’t had the use of her limb for almost 30 years. Having access to people like Jessica who can tell her story and share the benefits with other potential users is so important for the growth of the company.”

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COVVI, which has 25 staff, aims to disrupt a specialised sector that can transform lives. It is also bringing skilled, long term jobs to Yorkshire.

“COVVI is changing the face of the market and allowing us to take on a global market share,’’ said Mr Pollard. "We've recruited an additional 10 people over the last eight months and believe we have an opening for a further 15 to 20 people to join the company around the world. We have recently doubled the size of our production facility in Leeds and have entered the robotics market which represents a significant opportunity.”

The business has become profitable over the last four months, which Mr Pollard described as a “game changer” for a small company which has weathered the storm of the pandemic.

He added: "We've signed a long-term contract with Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin group to support the ongoing development of our robotic hand solution which will be used in unison with Sellafield in order to eliminate contaminated nuclear waste from glove boxes without the need for human intervention. We have also developed some new software within our app called ‘Remote Assist’.”

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From its base in Yorkshire, the company can use this software to connect to any of its hands which are being used by patients around the world.

Mr Pollard said: “We can make changes to their hand in real-time. This is ground breaking technology that COVVI has developed, which saves the hand having to come back to base to get fixed for any software issues. The software was developed due to the pandemic, as it was extremely difficult for patients to visit the clinics, so we invested in making sure our technology gave us access to the hand remotely.

"We have a facility in San Antonio in Texas and a facility in the UK. We are selling these hands as far afield as China, Australia and New Zealand. The way we have designed the hand means we can take it apart very quickly and we can replace them very quickly as well. We have an aim, over the next 12 to 18 months, to be selling 100 hands a month."

He added: "In September, the NHS approved the UK’s policy for multi-articulated hands which are now available to UK patients; as a result COVVI is now accessible to users throughout England. Until this new ruling was made, there was not an accessible advanced solution for patients with upper limb difference via the NHS. The NHS is now able to prescribe a COVVI hand in line with their clinical commissioning policy.”

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COVVI is on a rapid growth trajectory, which is being supported by high profile advocates like Ms Smith.

Mr Pollard added: “We are sending out between 20 to 30 hands each month. Growth is getting faster and and I am extremely excited about the future, not least because of the potential opportunities on the robotics side.”