Usono: From a great, promising start via a scale-down to reorientation and new success

Rabo Innovatie Lening John Paul van Heel Care and Innovation Advisor at Rabobank, Victor Donker (CEO) and Jori Verbeek (CTO)

Rabo Innovation Loan shows market potential for other investors as well.

Original article written and published by Innovation Origins.

The product itself – the ProbeFix Dynamic, a holder for making ultrasound equipment portable – still looks (about) the same as it did seven years ago, but not the target market. Whereas Victor Donker and his colleagues first focused on the cardiology market, now they’re aiming fully at sports medicine and physical therapy. Several top European soccer clubs have already embraced it, but eventually, Usono also wants to appeal to amateur athletes and their physical therapists.

Shortly after completing the HighTechXL accelerator in 2016, the Usono team, which at its peak included about 12 people, was fully convinced of the most promising course of action. “The ProbeFix variant for cardiology struck a huge chord with these specialists, so then you think it’s all right,” recalls co-founder and CEO Victor Donker. “But gradually, you find out that it’s not the cardiologists who determine the investments in a hospital. We did try that for a while, but in 2019, we really had to pull the plug on that whole business case.” Laughing: “At a time when everyone was talking about growing from startup to scale-up, we became a scale-down.”

Organic growth

The years that followed were typified by “organic growth”, Donker says. “Co-founder Jori Verbeek and I agreed not to rely on external funding for the time being but only to grow under our own steam.  COVID-19, of course, only made that choice wiser.” The result was an admittedly slower but steady growth – plus the opportunity to explore new targets and markets. Meanwhile, the ProbeFix was being sold primarily to researchers who were producing scientific papers on it. There were no guarantees at the time, of course, but it worked out tremendously well: “We actually had sports doctors and physical therapists coming to us as a result of those publications asking if they could also use it clinically.” 

Rabo Innovatie Lening
John Paul van Heel (Care and Innovation Advisor at Rabobank), Victor Donker (CEO) and Jori Verbeek (CTO)
Rabo Innovatie Lening John Paul van Heel Care and Innovation Advisor at Rabobank, Victor Donker (CEO) and Jori Verbeek (CTO)

The CE listing secured last year provided the final push for Donker and Verbeek. The ProbeFix Dynamic was suddenly used at top soccer clubs such as Liverpool, Torino, Villarreal, Espanyol, and Necaxa. “There was clinical evidence, there were customers as far away as Mexico, so then we became more and more convinced that a new phase had begun.” That meant approaching potential investors again for the first time in years. Rabobank took the plunge with the Rabo Innovation Loan of up to 150,000 euros. “This agreement reflects our confidence in Usono’s team and vision,” said John Paul van Heel, Care and Innovation Advisor at Rabobank. “We have full confidence in their ability to drive meaningful innovation in the healthcare landscape.”

Usono plans to use the money as additional support to better approach the market. It is now clear that it is large, but more is needed to materialize that potential. Donker: “At the top of our wish list is attracting a clinical applications specialist who can help us bring in knowledge and expertise in that area. Think of a physical therapist or sports physician.”

Formula 1

For Van Heel, the renewed focus has also been important: first, the top sports arena and from there to the world of recreational sports. “I sometimes compare it to Formula 1; there, many solutions are developed that eventually come in handy in a regular passenger car. Usono’s current playing field is the top level, but the goal later is that the ProbeFix can start to be rolled out much more widely and that it can also be used for amateur athletes.”

The Spanish-speaking market seems to be the most interesting at the moment, so it is no coincidence that three Usono colleagues will be at the Isokinetic conference at the Atletico Madrid stadium in the coming days, thanks to an invitation from GE Healthcare and Prim Physio. “Can you imagine this: the largest medical company in the world is our partner and is helping us roll out an appropriate network. We will engage with the crème de la crème of soccer medicine and rehabilitation in Madrid!” For example, an appointment is already scheduled with the medical specialist of the Colombian Olympic Committee, who has just purchased the ProbeFix and will be using it with their Olympic athletes.

That expanding network, by the way, is also one of the benefits of the commitment to Rabobank. “Of course, the money is very welcome, but Rabobank’s expertise and network, both financial and in medtech, is going to help us tremendously. Not only among primary users but also with healthcare providers and hospitals.”


Van Heel points out another benefit of the Rabo Innovation Loan: “What we see with startups that we have helped before with such an innovation loan is that thanks to the visible trust we give them, they also find it easier to approach other investors.” Which is exactly Donker’s intention. “We would really like to find an investor who can help us through this period with a few tons of growth capital.”

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