How She Does It: Lise Pape, CEO & Founder of Walk with Path
Lise’s business, Walk with Path, designs and manufactures assistive technology for people with mobility problems.
In the UK, falls currently account for more than £2.3 billion of National Health Service (NHS) spending each year, making fall prevention an urgent public health priority. One in every three people aged 65+ falls at least once a year, with potentially devastating consequences, including social isolation, reduced quality and life and less independence. For 35-year-old Lise Pape, who has seen her father suffering from Parkinson’s for more than 15 years, issues around mobility and the risk of falling are deeply personal.
Driven by a desire to help her father, and with access to researchers at Imperial College London where she was completing a double Masters in Innovation Design Engineering, Lise started studying the issues of day-to-day life for people with Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis.
The result was two products, Path Feel and Path Finder, which focus on improving people’s balance and mobility, significantly impacting on physical health, self-esteem and social life. Funding from the Dyson Foundation, Nesta and the Helen Hamlyn Trust soon followed, giving rise to Walk With Path, a company dedicated to developing wearable products that reduce the risk of falling for vulnerable individuals. https://www.walkwithpath.com/
Deb Bailey: Welcome to the Secrets of Success blog, Lise! What a powerful story you have to share. How did you decide that entrepreneurship would be the right path for you?
Lise Pape: Glad to be here, Deb. I started working on the products that Walk With Path are aiming to commercialise, Path Finder and Path Feel, in 2014. At the time, I was studying for a double masters in Innovation Design Engineering at the Royal College of Art and Imperial. Upon graduation, I won several small grants. These gave me the belief and drive to continue with what I was doing. I founded the company later in 2014 and have been working on it ever since.
Deb: What have been some of your lessons learned?
Lise: There are many lessons that I have learned. I learn every day. The breath of what you have to do as a founder is so wide, that I could not have imagined it when I started out.
I founded the company by myself and was soon after joined by a friend from my studies, who was able to complement my skills. For me, one of the key milestones was being able to build a team in 2016. Having a team to work with is both inspirational and motivating. It also means that the pace of progress is much faster. This allows us to get to the next point much faster - being able to provide our products to our end users.
To be able to have a team, I needed funding. This was a bigger task than I had imagined. It also took much longer. So I would suggest everyone doing a business that requires funding, to start speaking to investors as early as possible. I think it is about building relationships - even when you are not investment ready yet.
Deb: That's great advice. Who are the ideal clients for your products?
Lise: Our end users, such as those with Parkinson's and the elderly, will become our initial clients.
From a business perspective, I think that B2B customers may be more "ideal" as they could be clients that would buy products in greater volumes. However, our end users are also extremely important, as they can help us by providing feedback that allows us to keep improving our products.
Deb: Your products will certainly change a lot of lives. What have been some of your successes and challenges, so far?
Lise: We have been fortunate to win several awards, which has raised our profile and provided press opportunities. The latter has led to several end users contacting us, so it is a great way to reach our initial customers. We are currently nominated for the Cartier Women's Initiative Awards, which has led to us receiving mentoring on our business plan, and press opportunities on the BBC. We have also won an award from AXA previously, who have now invited us to participate in an exhibition at Design Museum from the end of April.
The challenges are constantly changing. At the moment, we are going through our first production run in the UK and China. This experience is challenging and my colleague is in China at the moment to ensure that all runs smoothly.
Deb: What inspires you to do the work you do?
Lise: I am inspired to try and solve the problems that our products address. Seeing people who struggle with walking and how it affects them can be very disheartening. My father suffers from Parkinson's disease, so I know first hand how much it impacts the family.
As a company, we are keen to do something about that, to extend mobility and provide a better quality of life. That is a major driver.
Deb: I think most entrepreneurs are driven to create things to improve people's lives. Going forward, what's your vision for your business?
Lise: I envisage for Path Feel and Path Finder to become readily available to the people who need them. That would mean that they are prescribed and provided as required.
As a company, we are committed to doing continuous research and development. We want to ensure that our products meet the users' needs at all times. We also have several new product ideas that we are exploring, within the area of mobility and injury prevention.
Deb: What advice would you give to women entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
Lise: I would suggest to do something they are passionate about. There will be many ups and downs, and it's critical to be committed. I think it is a necessity to be passionate about what you do to keep going at all times. I think it's also important to try and set yourself targets for what you want to achieve by when.
Deb: When you're not working on your projects, what's your favorite activity to relax and unwind?
Lise: I enjoy cooking and baking. I usually always make something I haven't made before. I enjoy experimenting and trying to constantly make it better than last time.
I have also recently picked up tennis again. It is very enjoyable, but I need to train a lot to get back to speed!
Deb: Lise, this has been a very inspiring conversation. I have one last question for you. What do you wish you could tell your younger self?
Lise: That's a difficult one. I would probably say to leave the types of jobs that were obviously not right, sooner. I would also suggest to pursue an entrepreneurial path earlier on. It's something I wanted to do for a while, but I did not feel like I quite had the chance or the skills to do it, until later on.