Reimagining prosthetics

To launch a successful business, passion, drive and determination is essential. Nate Macabuag, Founder of Koalaa is the perfect example of a founder on a mission to change the world and make a real-life difference.  

Having met quadruple amputee Alex Lewis during a master’s degree project, Nate discovered what really matters to those with limb difference: comfort, ease of use and accessibility. This is where he unknowingly embarked on his mission to reimagine prosthetics forever. 

With the insight, inspiration and ongoing support of Alex, various clinicians, charities and support organisations, Nate founded Koalaa in April 2020, with the aim of making prosthetics comfortable and affordable for anyone on the planet. 

Fast forward to now, Koalaa has provided over 1,000 limbs to adults and children around the world.  

The prosthetic industry is letting many people down. There are 21 million people with upper limb difference globally. The Red Cross is the largest single provider, offering between 3,000 and 6,000 limbs yearly. The maths doesn’t add up. It’s this shortfall of demand that keeps Nate and the Koalaa team up at night.  

A Koalaa soft prosthetic is an innovative type of prosthetic arm, designed for adults and children with below-elbow limb differences. Unlike traditional prosthetics, Koalaa offers a lightweight, comfortable solution, designed so individuals don’t have to miss out on the things they love, whilst also making everyday tasks slightly easier. 

Made from machine-washable fabric, the soft prosthetics are easy to wear and once in place, a range of tool attachments can be fitted. A Koalaa prosthetic can be used for endless activities, including writing, playing an instrument, bike riding, skipping and applying makeup. You don’t have to miss out on doing the things you love.  

At the heart of Koalaa is the desire to build a community and provide a peer-to-peer service where limb buddies, with personal experience of a limb difference, support users in exploring how soft prosthetics could support their lifestyle. 

When you purchase a Koalaa soft prosthetic you automatically become part of its incredibly inspiring community and are assigned your own ‘limb buddy’ who can assist with any concerns, and support you every step of the way.  

The range 

Currently, Koalaa has two designs, the ALX and the Paww, both of which are not motorised, keeping production costs minimal without compromising utility. 

The ALX is a slip-on-and-go prosthetic arm comprised of a soft fabric and interchangeable tools, designed for those with a below elbow limb difference. The Paww is the same soft fabric and tools, designed for users with partial-hand limb difference. 

The aim of the soft-shell design is to be as comfortable as your favourite pair of trainers, but also multifunctional. 

A key benefit of Koalaa soft prosthetics is they can be ordered virtually, removing the need to visit a clinic for fitting. 

The key is in simplicity 

When it comes to assisted technology (products aiding/enhancing ability), most products have not seen innovation in years, and prosthetics are a prime example. 

It’s been a few years now, and Koalaa is still waiting to see another company offering soft prosthetics in the market. Currently, the prosthetic market is dominated by two bigger companies who haven’t adapted since the Second World War. There are also lots of young, 3D printing startups. Both are designing the same thing, the original rigid, complicated prosthetic.  

Nobody is making them simply.  

“We want to get a bit of a movement going, we want people to essentially listen to users and know what they want,” explained Nate. 

“If you have an idea in your head where you want to be the world first at something, an easy place to look is assisted technology. Recycle what already exists, because chances are it hasn’t been reimagined in a long time, if not ever,” added Nate. 


Koalaa has seen three rounds of fundraising. In 2020, Koalaa raised £150,000 in equity funding, In May 2021, Koalaa secured £125,000 in funding from the British Design Fund, which was used to increase manufacturing capacity in its West London facility to meet its increased demand. The team is currently concluding its most recent, £1 million round.  

Koalaa has also received multiple grants,. Including £140,000 from Innovate UK’s Sustainable Innovation Fund. 

Getting hold of a Koalaa soft prosthetic  

Setting users back a fraction of the price of a regular upper limb prosthetic, Koalaa makes it easy to pick the correct sleeve and attachments to suit its customers needs via its website. It also welcomes those interested to contact the team for further information and to talk things through.  

Koalaa is also experimenting with a subscription-based model to further ensure that cost isn’t a barrier to those wanting a soft prosthetic.  

Engineering good feelings 

Building and maintaining a positive relationship is vital when it comes to medical devices, especially something as lifechanging as prosthetics. “Our limb buddies provide holistic support. Sometimes the answer is a prosthetic, but often the answer is some advice, or signposting to help groups or introduced to families like them,” said Nate. 

Since founding Koalaa, Nate has experienced more highlights than he could have ever imagined. It’s always magical realising the difference the startup is making: “That first moment when someone does something and realises they CAN do it. To see someone, light up like that is indescribable.” 

That’s why the work Koalaa does in providing limb buddies is utterly invaluable. 

“Working with kids in general is pretty amazing. I love figuring out what’s interesting to them,” exclaimed Nate. 

Turning challenges into fun  

Conforming to the true nature of an engineer, Nate loves when things are broken, finding it fun to fix them. 

COVID saw a huge increase in demand for Koalaa’s prosthetics, with many NHS clinics being forced to close. To meet this demand, Koalaa had to solve its production problem and the team opted to set up their own mini factories in their bedrooms.  

Each person would produce an item, and someone else another. The prototypes were posted to each other, and the team would discuss them. The at home production was successful, with Koalaa producing 40 prosthetics each month.  

“It was fun, it was interesting, but it was also hard to make it work when the whole world was trying to stop,” said Nate. 

Now, Koalaa has 16 staff working in a London-based factory, producing between 100 and 120 soft prosthetics each month.  

The focus now is continuing to scale whilst maintaining that personal touch of connecting people to limb buddies and remaining an integral aspect of their limb journey. 

What’s coming up? 

Next up is raising awareness and ensuring the right people know Koalaa exist. The team is also focusing on fulfilling current contracts, and then scaling sustainably. Part of which involves designing new products, but most of it relies on designing new services that allow Koalaa to look after people effectively. 

In five years’ time, Nate strives to have a Koalaa hub in every major continent.  

“We’re already working in Africa, and it would be great to set up an operations hub that could at least look after the lower half of the continent,” explained Nate. 

“It would also be great to have a hub in and around the Middle East to serve areas like Syria.” 

It always comes back to Koalaa’s mission. Helping as many people as possible gain access to its soft prosthetics, and building a positive, supportive community.  

“There are so many people who have never had the opportunity to use a prosthetic limb or tool, and the fact it might be holding them back from doing something makes reaching new people in new places even more important,” concluded Nate. 

Koalaa is changing the game for prosthetics, empowering those with upper limb differences to approach daily life and tasks in a new, exciting way. Hopefully, others will seek inspiration in its journey, and join the team on its mission to make prosthetics affordable and comfortable to every person on the planet.