If you saw Mick Ebeling skating the promenades of Venice Beach in Los Angeles, it’s fair to say you wouldn’t mistake him for a health care visionary. That’s okay, he readily admits he has “no credentials, no training, and no tangible reason to succeed”. But he has succeeded, significantly so, in changing the quality of life for multiple people with severe conditions ranging from ALS to limb amputation.
Ebeling, 44, a film and commercial producer by background, is the founder and CEO of Not Impossible Labs, whose mission is “to create technology for the sake of humanity.”
Addressing the attendees of the 3rd Fortune Brainstorm Health conference in Laguna Niguel, Calif. on Monday, Ebeling explained how his journey into hacking together medical devices started when he attended an exhibit by a Los Angeles artist called Tony “Tempt” Quan. Quan, Ebeling learned, wasn’t at the gallery because he had ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), was totally paralyzed, and only able to communicate using eye movements.
Ebeling was inspired to help Quan and assembled a team of hackers and artists who created the EyeWriter which used a cheap pair of glasses, some rudimentary electronics and open source software to allow Quan to create art using eye movements. The device worked and Quan was able to create his first new artwork in seven years. (EyeWriter would later be named one of Time’s 50 Best Inventions.)
In creating EyeWriter, Ebeling found a methodology that Not Impossible Labs would use for all its future projects: Find one person with a problem, solve that problem, tell their story, and create something useful to many.
The most profound example of the methodology working is Not Impossible’s Project Daniel. At age 14, Daniel Omar, a boy from the Nuba Mountains lost his hands from a bomb blast during the Sudanese conflict. After reading a Time article about Daniel and the work of American doctor Tom Catena in the Nuba region, Ebeling decided he would try to help. He and his team flew to Sudan with 3D printers, laptops, and the tools to build Daniel a prosthetic arm.
Not only were they successful in building Daniel an arm with parts that would cost just $100, they were able to teach locals how to use the equipment to build prosthetics for more people affected by Africa’s most bloody modern conflict.
Solve for one, and create a solution for many.