Michael Bayne, ’05 Industrial Technology/Business Operations, ’09 MBA/MSC, is a tinkerer. Just like a few other Silicon Valley innovators, he began building prototypes for a new kind of wheelchair in his parents’ garage. He recently founded his company, Rota Mobility, with his father, a local semiconductor entrepreneur.
The inspiration for the “rowing” wheelchair “came from empathy,” says Bayne. His father’s cousin has multiple sclerosis and is in a wheelchair. “He wasn’t getting around much, and when you’re not getting around, your physical health and wellbeing decline.”
The chair’s bio-mechanically efficient and non-injurious push–pull propulsion—which offers both utility and healthy activity—earned him a win at the Neat Ideas Fair as an undergrad. As an alumnus, he used the $10,000 prize from the university’s business plan competition to pay for his prototypes. Manufactured in San José, the latest models are sleek and fun options for getting healthy. An ultra-light wheelchair is great for daily use, “but wheelchair users need their ‘running shoes,’ if you will,” says Bayne. “People in wheelchairs have a hard time going to the park or out for coffee. Our wheelchairs make such activities much easier and accessible for them.”