Tish Scolnik

2012 Scale-Ups Fellow


Leveraged Freedom Chair (LFC): An innovative lever-powered wheelchair for developing countries.

Website: Global Research Technology & Innovation (GRIT)

Pilot Market: India

Partners: Jaipur Foot & Pinnacle Industries

Meet Scale-Ups Fellow, Tish Scolnik
Tish graduated from MIT in 2010 with an SB in mechanical engineering and a minor in applied international studies. Tish got hooked on using her engineering skills for public service as an undergraduate in Amos Winter’s D-Lab class, Wheelchair Design for Developing Countries, followed by field work in East Africa and India developing and testing the LFC. Tish is joined Global Research Innovation and Technology (GRIT), where she serves as executive director, by Mario Bollini (SB ’09, MS ’12), who serves as director of engineering.

The Issue: 20 million people in need of an appropriate wheelchair
Regular wheelchairs are designed for hospitals not the rough terrain of both urban and rural areas in developing countries. Further, most standard wheelchairs are difficult to mainatin -- the parts and tools simply are not available. Wheelchair riders in developing countries already face a lot of obstacles, repairing their wheelchair should not be one of them.

The Solution: The Leveraged Freedom Chair
Instead of pushing on the wheels like a regular wheelchair, LFC riders push on levers, which are biomechanically more efficient. Riders "shift gears" by sliding their hands up and down the levers. Grabbing low on the levers is a "high gear," enabling riders to travel 80% faster than a regular wheelchair on tarmac. Grabbing high on the levers is a "low gear," enabling riders to power over obstacles with 50% more torque than a regular wheelchair. The levers can be removed and stored on the chair, enabling the LFC to be used like a regular wheelchair indoors. And, unlike other wheelchairs, it is built from standard bicycle parts and can be easily maintained anywhere in the world.

GRIT’s go-to-market strategy is centralized manufacturing paired with local assembly. Jaipur Foot is the LFC’s first customer and partner. India-based Pinnacle Industries has been selected in consultation with Jaipur Foot to manufacture LFC kits that will be sent to local workshops in India for assembly and distribution, and eventually to workshops in other countries as well.

GRIT has successfully completed its first production run of 35 LFCs: Fifteen were delivered to Jaipur Foot for distribution and evaluation, and the remaining 20 were shipped to Haiti where the team tested local assembly procedures. The goal is to ramp up to production of 500 per month and GRIT is building its organizational capacity in preparation to take orders from other Indian customers in early 2013.