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.
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.
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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.
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.