Tish Scolnik is the 27-year-old CEO of GRIT, which is a startup that started as a research project when she was studying engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With her classmates Mario Bollini and Ben Judge by her side, Scolnik developed the all-terrain wheelchair which was originally designed for the uneven grounds of African villages. They named it ‘Freedom Chair’ and it now sells in the United States at a market price of $2,995.
The freedom chair is highly useful in rough terrains. People who wish to hike or access a sandy beach will find it extremely efficient in its functioning.
The story of how it all began is interesting. Scolnik wasn’t exactly passionate about engineering. All she knew was that she had an affinity for science and Math. It was when her father insisted for her to consider it extensively that she went and signed up for an introductory class. She soon joined Massachusetts Institute of Technology to Pursue the STEM fields. In a male dominated class, Scolnik gradually caught up and started to shine.
In her spring semester she happened upon an advertisement for a class of wheelchair design which was oriented around developing countries. Highly interested, she raced to get herself a seat in the class. While originally planning to be pre-med Scolnik found herself more and more attracted to this field of research and development. She and her group got together with a small wheelchair workshop located in Tanzania. Through Skype and E-mail, they exchanged ideas and worked together to solve the problems of a wheelchair in a rough terrain.
Scolnik and her group made a trip to Tanzania the following year to better understand the ground reality of the difficulties that are faced by the wheelchair users there. One of the concerns was the long distances that had to be travelled which could potentially damage a standard wheelchair because of the rough terrain. The group realized that the need for a low maintenance and easy to repair wheelchair was absolute.
After a lot of brainstorming, the team put together a solution. They developed a wheelchair solely out of bicycle parts so that local workshops could easily repair it. They also redesigned the pushing system by adding a lever system which is comparatively easier to push.
The startup has witnessed success and has worked with different agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations to distribute around two thousand chairs in developing countries all around the world. They also designed it as a recreational chair and sold it in the US successfully.