Rowheels pulls not pushes

Heavily backed company has potential to shake up manual wheelchair market
Friday, March 11, 2016

FITCHBURG, Wis. – Rowheels, the makers of pull-based geared wheels for manual wheelchairs, will use a recent round of funding to roll out a new product with more mass appeal.

With $1.5 million in funding led by Madison, Wis.-based WISC Partners, the company plans to launch a more general-purpose wheel in the second half of this year, says Rimas Buinevicius, CEO.

“It will be more of a one-size-fits-all wheel without the bells and whistles, that we can offer for a broader sub-class of wheelchairs and frames,” he said.

Rowheels’ current product, the Rev1, which was launched in July, is designed for “wheelchair basketball player” types, and has multiple options for hub cap colors, wheel sizes, and tire and hand rim types.

With the wheels paid for by Medicare under code E2227, Numotion and other complex rehab providers have been quick to pick up the line, Buinevicius says.

“Our biggest obstacle isn’t funding but the ingrained brain memory of existing wheelchair users,” he said. “We’re asking them to do everything the opposite of what they’re used to. We’re asking them to pull the rim, not push the rim, to drive forward.”

The benefit of this non-traditional motion is engaging a larger set of upper torso muscles and, therefore, reducing the repetitive motion injuries that plague so many manual wheelchair users.

“I think it’s a very interesting technology, because it’s a very real problem,” said Josh Anderson, vice president of marketing at Permobil and a manual wheelchair user. “You’re at risk for repetitive injury, according to OSHA, if you do any motion more than 700 times a day. If you’re pushing a manual wheelchair, you’re doing that up to 4,500 times a day.”

What interests Ian Smith, a researcher and manual wheelchair user, the most about the technology is the possibility that it could offer people with higher-level spinal cord injuries the ability to use manual wheelchairs instead of power wheelchairs.

“These are people that are on the cusp,” said Smith, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health in the College of Applied Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “They don’t have the triceps and deltoids, which are the main drivers of standard propulsion, but with Rowheels, it’s all upper back.”

Rowheels expects up to $3 million to $4 million in funding when all is said and done, and Buinevicius hasn’t ruled out an acquisition of the company by one of the major wheelchair manufacturers.

“Right now, we’re focused on building the business,” he said. “We have the opportunity to grow this business quite rapidly.”