Monday August 3, 2015 1 comments
FORT COLLINS -- They are required on cars, essential on trucks. ATVs could not exist without them. Even bicycles have them. Motorized wheel chairs come with shock-absorbing suspension systems. So why not manual wheel chairs?
These were the thoughts that led 28-year-old John Morris, a quadriplegic since a snowboarding accident 10 years ago, to dream about and eventually create QuadshoX, a Fort Collins-based company that makes shock absorbers for wheelchairs.
While he was a student at Colorado State University, Morris switched from a manual or attendant-operated wheelchair (the kind you need huge arm muscles or -- more commonly -- someone else to push) to a motorized or power wheelchair. It was not until he’d been using the power chair for a while that it occurred to him to wonder why it had a suspension system but the manual chair didn’t.
The difference in the user experience was extraordinary.
According to Morris, manual wheelchairs “are not manufactured with suspension, and jolts that occur during daily activity are directly transferred to the people that sit in them. These impacts can create hours of unnecessary pain. Many people who suffer from disabilities such as cerebral palsy or stroke are non-verbal, and cannot communicate this pain to their caregivers.”
From these thoughts grew the idea of creating a company that would manufacture rear-suspension systems for manual wheelchair users, thereby “improving their quality-of-ride, as well as their quality-of-life.”
QuadshoX was founded by Morris in August 2014, but it was his experience in CSU’s Institute of Entrepreneurship that began the following month and ended in May 2015 that he credits with making his dream a reality.
“They paired me with Bill Cobb. He’s a Fortune 50 executive. Then, I added two engineers (Josh Gladfelter and Garret Ehrick), and Arianna Kilmer to handle finance and administration and lots of other things.” Along the way Cobb, who has over 30 years of experience in product and process management, marketing, finance, and startups, joined the fledgling company as chairman and acting CFO.
Soon they had a working prototype and a company.
Morris has been rolling around on the prototype of the QX-1, QuadshoX’s first product -- which is designed to provide rear-wheel suspension for Tilt-In-Space manual wheelchairs -- since January of this year, allowing Gladfelter and Ehrick to make changes based on a real user’s experience.
In addition to his own experience as a C4 quadriplegic, Morris draws on the experiences of friends who are wheelchair-bound for other reasons including stroke, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis, which “has really given me a better understanding of what makes a good wheelchair and what wheelchair users need,” he said.
Those individuals lucky enough to have no experience with wheelchairs might wonder what exactly Morris is trying to fix.
When a wheelchair without suspension rolls over a crack in the sidewalk, a pebble, or some other slight bump in the road a walker might not notice, the vibration travels up their arms (if they are propelling themselves manually) and through the wheels into the seat, causing jarring shocks and pain. If a wheelchair has shocks, this doesn’t happen.
It’s as simple – and profound – as that.
Kilmer also has extensive experience around wheelchairs. Before coming to QuadshoX, she was program director for a company that worked with intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals, where she created a day program designed to get people living in group homes out into the community to do volunteer work. Prior to that, she was a CNA doing home health care and, “my dad was in a wheelchair when I was growing up.”
According to Morris, the company also has several dedicated beta testers who attest that they “no longer feel the shock and vibration going through their arms. Now it goes through the suspension and they all report that the ride feels a lot better to them.”
And that, he says, is the entire point.
When time in the wheelchair is not correlated with pain, people can spend more time in their chairs, thus, Morris says, “QuadshoX provides greater independence for individuals by increasing the duration of time they can spend in a wheelchair.”
Jessica Rawley is both aunt and caregiver for 19-year-old Eden, who has been confined to a manual wheelchair her entire life due to cerebral palsy. Rawley’s testimonial on the QuadshoX website says that since her niece’s wheelchair was retrofitted with QuadshoX, every bump and crack in the road no longer sends her chair rocking back and forth, scaring her and causing unnecessary pain.
The rear suspension kit “has been amazing at absorbing the impact of those small bumps and cracks and saving her (and me as the wheelchair pusher!) a lot of discomfort. As soon as the QuadshoX team installed her suspension kit, Eden threw up her hand in the ‘I Love You’ sign and squealed in excitement. When I ask her now how it feels, she tells me, ‘Oh my gosh, I love it!’”
Once the prototype was perfected, Morris and his team needed to find companies to handle the production. They chose Minco Manufacturing in Colorado Springs to make their brackets, arms, and similar parts, and Pueblo Diversified Industries for logistics and fulfillment. Morris said they selected Pueblo Diversified, which Kilmer describes as, “an amazing company” because “they hire people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, allowing them to live on their own, receive a full paycheck, be part of the community, and have a better quality of life.”
Given the tagline on QuadshoX’s website, which reads: 'Made For People in Wheelchairs By People in Wheelchairs,' the connection reflects important aspects of both companies’ cultures.
QuadshoX is now raising money to fund the creation of the initial inventory of the QX-1, which is designed for the standard and pediatric versions of the wheelchairs made by the top two US manufacturers (Quickie and Invacare), and its sister product the QX-2, which is designed specifically for Invacare’s Solara model.
According to Kilmer, “We are in regular contact with (both distributors) and have even attended a few major wheelchair expos with them.”
What surprised her and the rest of the QuadshoX team was learning that “a few of the sales reps were shocked that their products don't have this kit on them already,” she said.
“It just takes someone in a chair to truly know the importance of suspension.”