This story was written by Lucas Wiggins for CSUN Today.
“Wheelchair Assist” — a business venture and senior design project created by a team of California State University, Northridge mechanical-engineering students — won first place and $20,000 at CSUN’s annual Bull Ring New Venture Competition that took place earlier this week.
Designed for hospital and rehab center use, “Wheelchair Assist” features two new innovations — a seat-lift assist and a rail-support system — which work together to help wheelchair users out of their seats, combining the functionality of standard patient lifts with the mobility of a wheelchair.
“We were so nervous,” said Steven Meza, Bull Ring presenter and “Wheelchair Assist” team captain. “It was so stressful going through the process and getting everything done. To win was such a joy.”
The contest, which took place on April 24, is an annual event hosted by the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics’ Entrepreneurship Program — serving as a launch pad for innovative new ventures from CSUN students, while providing access and exposure to mentors, coaching and potential investors.
“The Bull Ring provides a platform for entrepreneurial-minded students from across the university to join a community,” said Ryan Holbrook, director of the entrepreneurship program. “The students receive mentoring and support, and, ultimately, move their new venture ideas to the next level.”
The next level for this new venture, Meza said, is to have a marketable product ready for distribution by the fall.
“Going forward, we want to gain traction and get into the market as soon as possible,” Meza said. “We are working on our third prototype and are hoping to have that manufactured by the end of the summer. From there, we will go into testing and then begin distribution to some of our targeted doctors.”
After the announcement of their first-place finish, members of the “Wheelchair Assist” design team were invited to discuss their venture further with Bull Ring judges. Steve Fazio, president and CEO of Fazio enterprises and one of four judges in attendance, was optimistic about the future of the product, offering the team advice to modify their title to a name that “softens the edge.”
“I felt it needs a more marketable name,” Fazio said. “Something where someone doesn’t feel like they are actually sick or handicap, but just need a little help.”
To view this year’s results and for more information on the Bull Ring event visit: www.csunbullring.com.