How it started
The journey of Circleg started as an industrial design bachelor-degree project by Fabian Engel and Simon Oschwald at the Zurich University of the Arts in March 2018. Simon and Fabian were interested in social design and thought how amazing it would be to use design tools to have a positive impact on people’s life. In parallel, they shared a mutual interest in plastic - a material which, in their opinion, has a lot of potential but is often used in the wrong way. Most plastic packaging is thrown away immediately after use, and many plastic products have limited functionality and are not built to last.
They therefore wanted to combine the resource of plastic waste with the idea of creating a meaningful product. But how to define meaningfulness or even positive impact? Fabian had just returned from a design workshop in India where he became familiar with the Jaipur Foot Project – one of the largest organizations in the field of low-cost prosthetics, making and fitting prostheses all over the world. A prosthetic leg – clearly a product with the potential to have a positive impact on people’s lives. The idea was born to use recycled plastic for the production of lower-limb prosthetics.
Evaluating the potential
They shared this crazy idea with as many people as possible, especially with experts in the field of prosthetics and plastic recycling, to get some feedback and to already measure potential. Although there were still a lot of unanswered questions, most of the people they asked saw great potential in this idea. The Swiss/Kenyan Recycling company Mr. Green Africa introduced them to Kenyan plastic recycling industry – this provided an opportunity to travel to Kenya and understand the local prosthetic care system status quo. By talking to local amputees and orthopedic technicians, it soon became evident that the demand for cost-effective leg prostheses is very high and that a local production of prosthetics out of recycled plastic is an idea with tremendous potential.
«They shared this crazy idea with as many people as possible»
Creating the vision
When Fabian and Simon came back from Kenya with the experiences and insights of all these people and institutions, the journey with Circleg began. Three months later, in June 2018, Fabian and Simon graduated as industrial designers by showing the first vision of the Circleg Prototype to the world. They were overwhelmed by the positive feedback and were also able to convince renowned juries of Circleg – which was awarded the Student Design Award 2018 as the best design project at the Zurich University of the Arts, the Swiss James Dyson Award 2018, the Swiss Student Sustainability Award 2018 and the Young Researcher Award 2018. Although the studies ended with the completion of the bachelor thesis, it was absolutely clear to both of them that they want to continue the journey with Circleg.
«It was absolutely clear to both of them that they want to continue the journey with Circleg.»
Building-up the team
Fabian and Simon spent the first months after their studies securing funding for the start-up phase of Circleg. Fortunately, they were then financially supported by the Gebert Rüf Foundation with the program “BREF- First Ventures” and the Ikea Stiftung Schweiz. Thanks to this support, the two-men team was able to onboard more people to the team and therefore, also complementary competences. As Circleg’s initiative grew, the team has steadily grown to six members, representing an interdisciplinary and highly motivated set of minds. Fabian and Simon firmly believe that complex questions and problems are best solved when people from different backgrounds and disciplines work together. An important part of the development of Circleg has therefore always been the cooperation with institutions and experts from different fields. Through this common effort, Circleg has evolved from a student project to a social impact business. It was amazing to see that foundations such as Pro Victimis Fondation, Ikea Foundation Switzerland and Dornacher Foundation supported and are continuing to support Circleg and therefore enable the vision of freedom of mobility for everyone to become reality.
Team Circleg will continue to passionately further develop its assistive products and services in order to turn this vision into real impact.