Lifting Lives: Entrepreneurs Innovate Wheelchairs that Rise
by Julie Fahnestock
I’ve lived most of my life seeing the view from six feet, one inch. My mother swears I was born this tall. Balding heads, cracked ceilings and cobwebs are my normal view. I’ve had unwelcome nicknames like “Amazon,” “Flagpole” (the meaning of my German surname, Fahnestock), and daily I’m asked if I play for the WNBA. So, I’ve never thought about what it might be like to lack the ability to reach the tallest grocery shelf or be unable to sit at a bar with my friends or share direct eye contact with my husband. But this is the reality of the millions of people who use wheelchairs. Of course, they and their loved ones adapt to make life easier and objects more reachable. What if there was a way for wheelchair users to go to their favorite concert and not worry that they won’t be able to see the band?
Levaté Lift is working to do just that. What began as a project by a group of engineering students for the Agile Product Design competition through the University of Oklahoma's Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth has developed into a viable product. Levaté Lift created a lightweight, portable, and easily detachable pneumatic lift for manual wheelchair users that increases their reach by 12-18 inches. Made from welded aluminum, plastic and carbon fiber, the entire wheelchair raises up, not only the seat—a feature that makes it completely different from their competitors. Through several rounds of prototyping and beta testing, Levaté Lift designed the lift to meet the exact needs of wheelchair users.
Julie is passionate about telling the story of where business meets good. She is the Founder of B Storytelling, a content development company specifically designed to help popularize the good happening through business. They do this by helping Benefit Corporations and other social enterprises identify, build and leverage their brands. Julie has an MBA in Managing for Sustainability from Marlboro Graduate School. She lives in West Palm Beach, Florida with her husband, Thomas.