MILWAUKEE – RoWheels has developed an ergonomic drive system to change how wheelchairs are propelled by their users winning the grand prize in the 2012 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest. The awards were announced at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee, at the Pfister where the top 12 contestants squared off in making oral presentations on their plans.
RoWheels, led by Rimas Buinevicius, former CEO of Sonic Foundry Inc., worked with Salim Nasser, a NASA engineer to create a geared wheeling system that allows a wheelchair user to use a pulling motion, similar to rowing a boat, instead of having to push the wheels forward to move it. The technology requires less effort by users while reducing strain on shoulders, joints and muscles.
“RoWheels was an excellent example of the right combination of winning attributes – an experienced management team, a well-designed product that can be built right here in Wisconsin, and the passion that comes from developers who have had to live with the experience of being in a wheelchair,” said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, which runs the contest.
RoWheels has patents pending on some of its technology, which requires less effort by users while reducing strain on shoulders, joints and muscles, Buinevicius said. The company is going to set up a light manufacturing facility and hopes to be selling the wheelchair by the end of the year, he said.
“The primary reason we took this project on was the ability to build it in Wisconsin with manufacturing expertise we already have here,” said Buinevicius, who spent eight weeks in a wheelchair following an accident. Salim Nasser, a NASA space engineer, drew on 15 years of experience in a wheelchair to help design the mechanism. The company is housed in the Madcelerator business start-up accelerator, which is run by Buinevicius and three partners.
The RoWheels was the first-place winner in the Advanced Manufacturing category of the contest. Other category winners were:
Business Services: Style Shuffler is a licensed “white label” mobile application for retailers to improve customer experience in making clothing and accessory selections.
Information Technology: Strategic Fishing Systems is using patent-pending innovation in geographic information systems to develop Contour Elite, which can predict fish locations.
Life Sciences: Reza-Band is a product of Somna Therapeutics, a medical-device company focused on improving the quality of life for people suffering from extraesophageal acid reflux.
The awards were announced at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee, where the top 12 contestants squared off in making oral presentations on their plans. Some 248 entries were received in January from contestants in more than 75 communities. About 65 judges and mentors took part throughout the contest’s four stages.