Startups

37-year-old built a $50 million bionic hand company—and landed a $1 million 'Shark Tank' offer

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Psyonic founder Aadeel Akhtar holding the Ability Hand on ABC's "Shark Tank."
(Disney/Christopher Willard)

Aadeel Akhtar was age 7 when he met a little girl missing a limb.

Three decades later, he's making bionic prosthetic hands —  and his invention drew a $1 million investment offer on a recent episode of ABC's "Shark Tank."

"She was my age, living in poverty in Pakistan where I was visiting, missing her right leg and using a tree branch as a crutch," Akhtar said during the episode, which aired on Feb. 23. "That's what inspired me to go into [neuroengineering], and that's why I developed the Ability Hand."

The device is manufactured by San Diego-based startup Psyonic, which Akhtar founded in 2015, according to his LinkedIn profile. "You can control [the bionic hand] with your muscles," said Akhtar, the company's CEO. "It's also water resistant and USB-C rechargeable. You can even charge your phone from your hand, a superhuman ability."

Organizations like Meta and NASA have used the Ability Hand on robots to help them mimic body movements, Psyonic noted in 2022.

Akhtar asked the show's investor judges for $1 million, in exchange for a 2% equity stake in his company — valuing Psyonic at $50 million — saying he wanted help increasing the startup's production capacity. Each bionic hand cost $15,000 to make, making it difficult to create inventory at scale, he said.

A confused Mark Cuban

Psyonic had raised several million dollars already, Akhtar said. At the time of filming, it was also running a crowdfunding campaign on StartEngine that eventually closed at $3.1 million, according to a post on StartEngine's website.

The crowdfunding approach threw investor Mark Cuban for a loop. If Psyonic's technology was revolutionary, venture capital and private equity firms would be lining up to write checks, making crowdfunding unnecessary, Cuban said.

Indeed, Akhtar had been turned down by equity investors who didn't understand Psyonic's ability to straddle the line between multiple industries, he said. "What we've seen in [the healthcare] space is that it's either one of the other," he said. "They're either going into robotics purely or they're going into the health care field."

Cuban doubted that such investors would be so narrow-minded, indicating that something else must have kept them from contributing funds. "This just does not add up to me, so for those reasons, I'm out," he said.

Robert Herjavec also declined to make an offer, citing similar skepticism.

Snagging a 7-figure offer

Akhtar still had Kevin O'Leary, Lori Greiner and Daymond John's attention, and O'Leary asked about Psyonic's financials.

"Lifetime sales [are] about $2 million ... [In 2022] it was just over $1 million," Akhtar responded, adding that his startup made $100,000 in profit that year.

Lori Greiner, Kevin O'Leary and Daymond John holding the Ability Hand.
(Disney/Christopher Willard)

O'Leary was interested, he said —  but he wouldn't "get out of bed for 2% of anything," and countered with $1 million for 10% of the company.

Akhtar was unwilling to give up that much equity, so O'Leary, Greiner and John joined forces for another offer: $1 million for 6% in company shares, 2% for each investor.

The shares would be a combination of common shares and advisory shares, allowing Akhtar to keep his company's valuation at $50 million, the StartEngine post noted.

"I think we've got a deal," Akhtar said.

"Absolutely fantastic presentation," O'Leary added.

Disclosure: CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to "Shark Tank."

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Psyonic is based in San Diego.

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