This Startup Is Revolutionizing Mobility for Wheelchair Users
Travel and Transportation
The ways we get around
The Kenguru hatchback has no seats: Drivers access the vehicle using its rear-opening tailgate and automatic ramp, securing their wheelchairs via interlocking device. The Kenguru also eschews the conventional steering wheel in favor of motorcycle-style handlebars; a joystick-based control option is in development. The car checks in at about 1,000 pounds, 7 feet long and 5 feet tall, and it's optimized for in-town driving, with top speeds of 25 or 35 miles per hour and an estimated battery range of 60 miles.
"People with disabilities are a very underserved segment of the population, with huge needs," says Zoern, president and co-founder of the Pflugerville, Texas-based company. "Just getting to work is a huge challenge."
Born with spinal muscular atrophy, a form of muscular dystrophy, Zoern has spent her life in a wheelchair. When she was 19, she and her passenger were injured when she lost control of her customized Dodge Grand Caravan; it hit a curb, blew out a tire and crashed headfirst into a light pole, totaling the vehicle. Zoern didn't drive again for more than a decade; after graduating from The University of Texas School of Law, her job search was limited to legal firms within close proximity of her downtown Austin apartment. "Otherwise I would have had to pay for someone to take me to work each day," she explains. "But downtown living is very expensive. It cost my entire paycheck just to live there."
Zoern's frustrations ultimately prompted her to search the web for new transportation options, leading her to Budapest, Hungary-based Istvan Kissaroslaki, whose initial attempts to develop the Kenguru (Hungarian for "kangaroo") ran aground when a loan of 2 million euros fell through following the collapse of financial services giant Lehman Brothers. Zoern contacted Kissaroslaki in March 2010; five months later, he traveled to Texas and agreed to relocate operations to Pflugerville.
Zoern quit her position as an intellectual-property litigator in fall 2011 to focus on Kenguru, spearheading fundraising efforts, building a management team and meeting with potential manufacturing and engineering partners. Kenguru has secured $4 million from investors and in January announced plans to enter production later this year. The cars are projected to sell for about $25,000, although federal green energy and mobility tax incentives may reduce costs for qualified buyers.
Zoern acknowledges that she might never have become an entrepreneur if Kissaroslaki's original funding had panned out but says she can't imagine ever returning to a life practicing law. "Getting a startup off the ground is the most difficult thing you can do. There's one obstacle after another, and so much personal financial risk," she says. "But every single day, I get e-mails from people who visit our website and say, 'This is going to change my life. Thank you.' That lightens my load. It's a reminder of why I'm doing this."
More Travel and Transportation Brilliance
Helios Bars transform a bike into a smart bike, with turn-by-turn navigation, GPS tracker, smartphone connectivity, turn signals, speedometer and LED headlights and blinkers with multicolor ambient lighting options.
Trakdot: Stick this battery-powered tracker in your luggage to get updates on its location via text, e-mail or app.
The City Maps 2Go app lets users access high-quality maps of thousands of global cities, as well as in-depth travel content and insider tips, without an internet connection.
Car drivers have Waze to help them avoid traffic. Now public transportation riders have the free Moovit app, which taps its thousands of users in 130 cities to deliver real-time arrival data for trains and buses and to suggest the most efficient routes.
Bumped from a flight? AirHelp will chase down the airline to make sure you're justly compensated--up to three years after the fact--taking a 25 percent cut of whatever it recovers.
PassportParking's cloud-based solutions let consumers pay for parking through their mobile phones and view discounts from nearby retailers via integrated Facebook login.
The LoungeBuddy app directs you to airport lounges, describes the amenities available and lets you know if you have access (either for free or for a fee) based on your itinerary, airline elite status and premium credit cards.
For those looking to travel lighter, LugLess offers pickup, shipping, tracking and delivery of baggage, boxes, golf clubs, bicycles, skis and snowboards throughout the U.S. and in more than 200 countries.
Entrepreneur Editors' Picks
This Founder Quit His 'Prison'-Like Teaching Job Within 2 Months. Now, He and His Sister Are Helping Other Teachers Leave the Classroom and Achieve Financial Freedom.
If You Focus on Problems, You'll Only Find More Problems. Here's How to Focus on Solutions.
Facing More Than 15 Years in Prison, This Founder Transformed His Hustle Into a Powerful Personal Brand and Business. Now, He's Giving Back in a Big Way.
Apple Asks This Jarring Interview Question as a Secret Way to Evaluate a Candidate