Ilan Aviv was a musician with no experience in medical devices or the startup sector. "But I was always overflowing with ideas," he says. "I married a woman that I love dearly, met her two disabled parents, and fell in love with them as well.
"It was love at first sight. And it didn't matter that they were disabled until I began walking around with them in the streets and saw firsthand that they were disabled in the sense that we, as a society, do not offer them the opportunity to be independent."
Aviv remembered one poignant episode with his mother-in-law. "I took her to the hair salon, and there was a single stair at the entrance. One. Her electric wheelchair is heavy even if we had gotten help from others, it could not be carried up the step. My mother-in-law sat outside of the salon, humiliated. I asked her if this was usual and she said yes.
"She told me that when she goes to the toy store to buy gifts for her grandkids, she waits outside until a sales associate has time for her, that in the summer, she waits out in the sun. All of this because of a single step. I told myself that I must save my mother-in-law."
Thus the idea for Step-up was born. Aviv began brainstorming solutions to help the electric wheelchair climb one stair. With an idea in mind, he turned to Ziv-Av Engineering (ZAE), which has wide experience in developing medical devices, with an emphasis on products for disabled people. ZAE offers a variety of solutions including low-cost wheelchairs for third world countries and shock-absorbent wheels first developed for wheelchairs but subsequently used in bicycles and airplanes.
"They saw the potential of the product and its add-on value, then schooled me on product development," Aviv recalls, "When I finally saw the prototype working, I was overjoyed because it was exactly what I wanted. I never thought I'd found a startup all I wanted was a product for my mother-in-law but together with Ziv-Av, I examined the market potential and realized it was possible to launch a firm based on this product."
The "step-up" issue is a sensitive subject for disabled people who use wheelchairs. While most sites with multiple stairs will often have a ramp or an elevator, the places with a single stair generally do not (as the rest of the population does not see the severity of the issue). Whereas regular wheelchairs can be lifted with the help of a caretaker of a passerby it is an uncomfortable ordeal, one that is not even possible for those using the much-heavier electric wheelchairs.
In recent years, several high-end models equipped with a variety of solutions have entered the market, but they are niche products designed for those who can afford a steep price tag rising up to $100,000. Aviv, on the other hand, aims to solve the issue with an accessible price point.
Step-up's development includes a pair or arches that are fitted on the electric wheelchair without increasing its width, weight, or turning radius. When arriving at a stair or sidewalk, the arches extend with their front wheels on the step and their back wheels still on the road below leaving the wheelchair in the air, suspended by the arches.
Then the arches' back wheels begin pushing forward and the wheelchair still in the air above the step starts to stabilize down on the ground. At that point the arches and the wheels return to their original position.
The system includes a number of sensors to prevent a premature conclusion of the lift before the wheelchair is stable. Aside from helping disabled people conquer the sidewalk and the single-step, the device allows for unassisted entry to the bus.
The cost of the Israeli invention is expected to be between $1500-2000. Currently the firm is raising funds in order to receive the proper certifications and is looking for a marketing partner.
Aviv invested one million shekels privately and received matching funding from the Office of the Chief Scientist. His partner, Itamar Shimrat, previously worked for McKinsey. The pair hopes to expand their service in the future to include non-motorized wheelchairs.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on July 29, 2015
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