When Marco Fernandez realized that commercial insoles weren’t helping his flat-feet problems, he decided to work on a more customized insole product — using 3D scanning and printing techniques.
Marco, who’s 16 and a junior at Miami-Dade County’s School for Advanced Studies at Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus, has suffered from a flat-foot problem all his life. The problem has affected his performance in soccer, where he is currently in the regional pool for the state team.
“In my younger years, [my flat-feet problems] weren’t as prevalent. But then I was starting to get injuries in soccer, and it was hurting my feet and my calves,” he said.
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Marco had spent a lot of time at a makerspace called Moonlighter in Wynwood with his sister, Alessandra Fernandez, 18, a senior at New World School of the Arts, who was working on some art pieces.
He realized that he could use the same 3D scanning and printing techniques he saw at the makerspace to create a more accurate insole product for himself.
“Once I found the solution to what was my problem, I thought, ‘Why don’t I help others with the foot problems they’re having?’” Marco said. “Companies in the market aren’t helping people with the problems — they just have general insoles.”
He approached the staff at Moonlighter, who were finalists for the Business Plan Challenge in 2014, about his idea, and they connected him with Dr. Richard Santo Mallia, a podiatrist with a master’s in public health from FIU. The two shared their ideas and decided to join forces to create Digifeet, a company that connects podiatrists, designers and patients to create a custom insole.
“He has a lot of enthusiasm, and he’s very bright. I can see where he’s going with this, and I really believe in what he’s doing,” Mallia said about working with Marco.
Marco, with Mallia’s mentorship, then compiled the idea into a business plan and submitted it to the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge High School Track, which attracted 104 entries this year — and he won.
HOW IT WORKS
Patients looking for a custom insole would find out about Digifeet from either a mobile application or from their podiatrist. Patients would then scan their feet using a 3D scanner and send the scan to a designer who would then create a 3D image of the insole to print. The cost would be $95 plus shipping for the insole.
Doctors can purchase either a monthly or yearly package with 3D scanners. For $1,600, the monthly package includes a 3D scanner on lease, 3D scanning training and tech support. For $18,000, the yearly package includes a 3D scanner, two 3D scanning trainings and tech support.
On the mobile application, patients can find podiatrists who have 3D scanners. Once patients go to an appointment, the podiatrist will determine whether the patient has a foot problem.
If they do, the doctor will scan the patient’s foot and send the file, along with information about the patient’s foot, to a 3D designer, who would then design the insole. After the doctor approves the design, the insole would be sent to print at a 3D printing hub and delivered to the patient’s local doctor.
Right now, the team is working on creating a prototype for the insole by taking 3D scans of Marco’s feet and other patients with feet problems. The team is also working on getting more doctors on board with the project.
One of Marco’s goals is to get Digifeet covered under insurance.
“We’re trying to see if insurance could cover the appointment because that would be huge. Realistically, a lot of people who have foot problems are older, and if it could get covered by insurance, it would save a lot of money,” Marco said.
Since they’re still working on prototyping, the team hasn’t looked into patents yet, but they intend to file for one once they create the app.
When creating Digifeet, one of the biggest challenges the team faced was creating a unique product. Other companies do make insoles, but 3D scanning is the ultimate way to make custom insoles, Marco said.
Another major challenge the team has faced is time: Both Mallia and Marco have full schedules.
“Whenever [Mallia is] available, I’m ready to work with him. He’s full of energy,” Marco said. “This is definitely one of my priorities right now. He has so much knowledge on the topic.”
Despite that, the team makes an effort to meet and work on the project because they are both certain that it will be a success.
“I think that if [Marco] doesn’t come out with it first, someone else is going to come up with one later,” Mallia said.
Marco plans to go to a college where he can continue to pursue entrepreneurship. He mentioned Brown, Columbia and Wake Forest as possible options. In his free time, Marco loves being active; he teaches karate classes and received a black belt when he was 12.