New student startup finds solution for wheelchair users

VANTAGE POINT: Senior finance major J.J. Tang and senior mechanical engineering major Gordon Freirich have received funding from EDSON to put their ergonomically improved wheelchairs on the market, hopefully within the next several months. (Photo by Lillian Reid)

When Gordon Freirich and Nick Gough travel together with their families, it’s sometimes difficult.

Nick’s father, Dana Gough, uses a wheelchair.

“He uses an electric chair but he travels a lot,” Freirich said about Nick’s dad. “He likes to go camping, and the electric chair is not practical.”

Dana Gough was the inspiration for Freirich and Nick Gough’s business venture, Vantage Realized — a company that will eventually market a new lever system that makes it easier for manual wheelchair users to move.

Nick Gough said going to an airport isn’t easy for his father because the battery source on his electric wheel chair is not allowed, forcing him to use a manual chair.

But Freirich and Nick Gough have learned from Gough’s father that a manual wheelchair can be uneasy on a person’s joints.

“It’s because of bending over and reaching down, a lot of wheelchair users have arthritis in their shoulders,” Nick Gough said.

Freirich also said the mechanical chair’s design does not allow it to go up hills or on uneven and rough terrain.

Their product would try to fix that problem.

Two years ago, Freirich started working with Dana Gough on a prototype of the lever system that would improve a wheelchair.

“It’s a lever driven system, so instead of users grabbing the wheel directly, users will push and pull levers to drive themselves forward,” Freirich said.

After designing the prototype, Freirich and Nick Gough decided to start a business to help wheelchair users.

Freirich also asked his friend, business finance senior Jorjon “J.J.” Tang, to help with the business.

Freirich said his team is very valuable because of the different majors and personalities.

“We are really excited about the team because we are not like-minded people,” Freirich said.

Tang said he joined the business when Freirich told him about the struggles that Gough’s father had faced from being in a wheelchair.

“I’ve always wanted to be a social entrepreneur, help people make products that help people, so when Gordon told me about this I jumped on board,” Tang said.

Vantage Realized is one of 22 business ventures to receive funding this year through ASU’s Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative, a program that helps finance students startups.

The three business partners received a $12,000 grant and other resources to help their business grow.

While creating their business plan, the three spoke with wheelchair users and found they were experiencing the same difficulties as Nick Gough’s father — a sign that their product was marketable.

Tang said they are continuing to talk to potential buyers.

Charlie Lewis, vice president of venture development for Arizona Technology Enterprises, and mentor to the Vantage Realized staff, said it was vital and clever how the three reached out to these potential customers.

“They’re processing all the information that they get in order to make a very sound decision on what to do next,” Lewis said.

Vantage Realized is now using some of the grant money to create a second prototype.

Freirich said he still talks to Gough’s father about how he can make the product more useable for wheelchair users.

“Dana has really been the inspiration and the driving force behind all this,” Freirich said. “The project would of never happen without that connection, but we do hope to take what we learned and what we can design here and expand it to help all over the world.”

 

Reach the reporter at shurst2@asu.edu

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