Start-up of the day: This is how you make prams and wheelchairs fit for winter

Whether with a pram or in a wheelchair – anyone who travels in snow with small wheels has a hard time. Moving around becomes an immense effort. Patrick Mayer demonstrates how ingeniously this problem can be solved. The former snowboard professional was himself bound to a wheelchair for a long time. Nowadays, he can sometimes use crutches to move around again. And thanks to his invention Wheelblades, even in snow and on ice. We spoke to Patrick, who started the Swiss company Wheelblades.

Founder Wheelblades: Patrick Mayer ©wheelblades

Patrick, from your own experience you know how difficult it is to use a wheelchair in snow. What steps have you taken to address the current situation?

As a first step, I experimented by myself and created a simple working model. When I noticed how well my idea worked, I looked for a professional engineering agency to help me produce a professional prototype. Then came the pre-production series and ultimately the definitive version.

Interestingly, the problem hasn’t just been around since today.  Why do you think it took so long to find a workaround?

Certainly one of the reasons for this is that I myself am affected by the problem. I just simply wasn’t prepared to accept this limitation of mobility. On the other hand, I knew that there are a lot of people in wheelchairs all over the world who would be happy with an assistive device like this. Niche or no niche! I took a very serious financial risk in order to design the Wheelblades products. Not everyone is willing to do that. I am driven by a vision and you have to start somewhere.

Which obstacles almost forced you to give up?

Financial constraints, isolation and errors in large-scale operations.

And in retrospect, what are you particularly proud of?

That I always believed in my visions, never gave up and very often went far beyond my comfort zone, no matter how great the challenges were.

Are there any other inventions that you are planning which will make life in a wheelchair easier?

Of course there are more ideas, but I don’t want to talk about them here. There are some companies out there among the manufacturers of assistive equipment who steal ideas. Then they present them as their own. Unfortunately, I also went through this experience. If my plans work out, then all wheelchair users will soon be able to look forward to a really special sense of freedom. Although those people who would rather sit on the couch at home probably won’t like my new ideas.

Wheelblades SafetyFoot for Sand, Ice & more ©wheelblades
Wheelblades SafetyFoot for sand, ice & more ©wheelblades

To what extent does your start-up influence your current life and hobbies?

My company is dominating my life at the moment and there is not much time left for friends, hobbies, leisure time etc. But if you want to build something up, you have to be prepared to set your personal needs and desires on the back-burner.

Do you have any advice as an entrepreneur which you would like to share with other newcomers?

  • There must be a vision that drives and fulfills you.
  • Give it your best shot or give up.
  • Start small and don’t consider yourself too good for any job.
  • Have buffers planned in. Both in terms of finances and time.
  • Consult with friends and advisors who support your project honestly and sympathetically.
  • Don’t let yourself be swept away by slick catchphrases such as: “I’ll make you really big”.

Are you interested in start-ups? We report on other innovative companies here.

Start-up of the week: Hands free wheelchair mobility

”Your sneak preview of the future” is the slogan of Innovation Origins, and that’s just what we will highlight with our Start-up of the Week column. Over the past few days, five start-ups of the day have been featured and on Saturday we will choose the week’s winner.

Innovation Origins presents a Start-up of the Day each weekday

We shall consider various issues such as sustainability, developmental phase, practical application, simplicity, originality and to what extent they are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals  of UNESCO. They will all pass by here and at the end of the week, the Start-Up of the Week will be announced.

Qwiek – a sensation in senior housing

Most senior housing complexes are not exactly known for their inspiring environments nor their innovative highlights. Admittedly, there are innovations, although these have more to do with the health of elderly residents when something goes wrong. After treatment with the help of hi-tech equipment, many of them will go on living monotonous lives in their cheerless rooms with few visits from their family members.

At Qwiek they thought differently about this, since the surroundings in which seniors spend the autumn of their lives could use some music and color. The team developed a pillow that makes music so that the clients are better able to sleep, and have already come up with an easy-to-use projector which is able to transform every dusty room into a multimedia adventure. The greatest challenge? Making this product as simple as possible so that everyone will be able to use it, including your computer illiterate grandmother.

Artifictial Ecosystems – Smart moss walls

Nowadays an average living room is full of houseplants. And for those of you who want even more – but have hardly any gardening skills – you could choose to cover your exterior wall with a meter-high layer of moss. The vertical gardens from the gentlemen at Artificial Ecosystems are greening up facades and roofs. Green fingers are no longer necessary because the ecosystem is able to maintains itself with rainwater and an internet connection.

No, it is not a hyper-intelligent plant species that uses the Internet for private purposes, because the moss wall is in fact connected to a software program that takes care of the maintenance. The difference when compared to other vertical gardens, is that BryoSYSTEEM moss has been specifically developed to thrive on an exterior wall. Competitive systems use species that originally ‘just’ grew in the forest, subsequently maintenance is much more difficult for those species of moss.

3DQR – Augmented Reality finally grows up?

It is common knowledge that augmented reality can trigger a lot of innovations. The problem, however, is that anyone who wants to get started with this will have to reinvent the wheel. Do you remember those incredibly lame HTML websites back in the 1990s? They didn’t look natural and were only accessible to real nerds. 3DQR is in this phase right now, according to Daniel Anderson, the founder of 3DQR, and so he thinks it could all be a lot more streamlined.

By providing a content management system (CMS), AR will become more accessible to more people as well as making it easier to create apps. The ‘difficult’ steps can be left to the automated system so that the designer’s ideas are able to be realized, regardless of any lack of of technical know-how. Not technical – and yet want to create a virtual world that will improve the world a little more? Using 3DQDR brings this dream closer by.

The possibilities are endless; positioning virtual furniture in living rooms, visualizing how devices are operated, and naturally, being able to go on a virtual holiday to a distant galaxy.

CoVince – Netflix for e-Learning

Lifelong learning is a bit of a cliché, but some clichés are also just simply true. Technological progress is accelerating faster than ever before. And doing the same job with the same level of expertise for 40 years is no longer the case for most people. How are you able to update that expertise? The team behind the Dutch start-up CoVince says that this can be done in a Netflix-like way: you decide exactly what you want to learn from what’s available in a large library and off you go.

It is no longer necessary to go to an actual school building thanks to a combination of AR, gaming, an online community with teachers and fellow students, and an avatar that has been generated especially for you. All this can provide everyone with new and useful knowledge from the comfort of their own home. You could compare it to a kind of smarter educational version of Second Life that hopefully has a slightly less miserable ending. In any case, CoVince inspires great confidence and everything looks very futuristic and impressive in the videos.

Munevo DRIVE – Hands-free wheelchair mobility

Nobody sits in a wheelchair just for fun. Mastering it takes some practice and the user is unable to use their hands freely while on the move with a conventional wheelchair. But there is another way: a team from the University of Munich has launched an app that makes it possible to operate a wheelchair using head movements and smart glasses.

Who knows best how a wheelchair works? These are generally the users themselves. Munevo DRIVE was therefore created with these experiences in mind so that the system accurately addresses the sore points that they encounter. And the concept phase is definitely over: health insurers have recently reimbursed Munevo DRIVE, rendering the obstacles that surrounded a futuristic wheelchair experience a thing of the past. Users are delighted with it.

And that is not surprising; you will only realize how important mobility is when you yourself need the equipment to get from A to B. In this respect, Munevo DRIVE opens doors for a vulnerable group and demonstrably makes their lives a little more wonderful. And that thanks to Google Glass, a product that was laughed at a few years ago because back then it had no added value to everyday life. The latter is the reason why we have selected the team for the start-up of the week award!

Start-up of the day: Munevo – wheelchair mobility using head motion

Healthy people can hardly imagine what it is like to be immobile and have to sit in a wheelchair. It is especially difficult for those who cannot move their mobile vehicle manually. As then they are always dependent on the help of others. This is unpleasant, uncomfortable and stigmatizing. The start-up company Munevo has designed a unique Smartglass application that enables wheelchair users to control their wheelchairs by moving their head. A huge gain in autonomy and consequently a higher quality of life for those affected. Thanks to the application, they are able to become a bit more free and independent again. A further bonus is that the innovative control system is now covered by health insurance funds.

Claudiu Leverenz, CEO & Co-Founder of Munevo, in an interview with Innovation Origins

How did you come up with the idea to found Munevo?

The idea for Munevo was born during a university course as part of the Information Systems Masters program taught by Prof. Krcmar at the TU Munich, TUM. Here we were tasked with finding a solution which uses smart glasses so as to have a positive impact on mobility.

One of the students on the team had done his community service at a home. He had a lot of contact with wheelchair users there. This gave rise to the idea of developing a Google Glass App that would have a positive impact on the mobility of those affected.

Founders Munevo GmbH: Aashish Trivedi, Konstantin Madaus, Deepesh Pandey, Claudiu Leverenz (v.l.t.r.)  @Munevo

Over the course of the design, we included wheelchair users in the design process. We were able to design a product that was tailored precisely to the needs of the users thanks to their feedback.

What makes the product special compared to other products?

Munevo DRIVE is easily customizable within 20 seconds, offers many features and has a less stigmatizing appearance than the current alternatives.

What was the biggest hurdle you have had to initially overcome?

Getting approval for the medical device. This was very complex and involved a number of actions, including a clinical study at the Rechts der Isar Clinic in Munich.

Was there a moment when you wanted to give up?

No, the team and the user queries always keeps us motivated. The happy faces of users when they tested our application, that they originally thought was impossible to use, provided us with much more encouragement.

What was the best moment for you when it came to founding the company, what made you particularly proud?

The first-ever health insurance reimbursement. This is when we realized that we had made it.

What can we look forward to in the next few years, in other words: What can we expect from you in the coming years?

Faster reimbursement to purchasers so that users do not have to wait so long for their assistive devices

What drives you every morning?

The fact that there are still a lot of people who really need our help.

What is your vision: Where do you see your company in 5 years time and what is your ultimate goal?

Our goal is to develop a daily assistant that will make users more independent and relieve the burden on family and care. Because:

“We want to help people with disabilities live independently with the use of smart technology.”