CSU student’s wheelchair invention inspired by personal experience
John Morris is a 28-year-old graduating economics major from Fort Collins who has invented a new suspension system for wheelchairs — because he uses one.
Morris was paralyzed from the neck down at age 18 toward the end of his high school career when he and his friends built a snow ramp for snowboarding and he landed on his head, compound-bursting disc C5 and fracturing C4 and C6.
Flight for life took him to the hospital, and after spending four and a half months there, he was discharged. Two years later he decided to pursue his college career studying economics, starting in the spring of 2009.
“I figured out I really love macroeconomic policy and macroeconomics,” Morris said. “The whole economics department was amazing. They were really fun to be around and I loved all the professors, they made it really interesting.”
Morris has been taking nine credits per semester. Through Medicaid’s Consumer Directed Attendant Support Services, Morris has been able to hire 11 people to help him day to day. He sees three to four of his helpers each day. They help him get ready in the morning and eat, then they go to school with him, taking notes and managing his emails. They also help him with homework and his business work in the evenings.
“It’s a really cool program because obviously if you’re in a position to have to be around somebody for the entirety of the day every day, all the time, you might as well at least like the person that you’re with,” said Rachelle, one of his assistants. “John and I have become quite good friends, so we always have fun.”
‘On my own’
At first, Morris was not familiar with most services available to him at CSU.
“My first year I had to do everything on my own,” he said. “I didn’t know about the Assistive Technology Resource Center, or the Occupational Therapy department that’s here on campus, or Resources for Disabled Students. I had to do a lot of things with my mouth stick, I had to peck at the keyboard to write my papers until the ATRC helped me with a head tracker, voice capabilities, and my computer. The RDS, all those guys are awesome.”
To take tests, Morris goes to the Resources for Disabled Students testing rooms, reads the questions, and tells his assistant which answer to write in, or tells them what to write if it’s a short answer.
“College is no joke. It’s tough, even if you’re able-bodied. College is tough. It’s something you really have to work on. It is a job,” said Morris. “You have to put in the time and effort to get what you want out of that class, to really understand, to be compassionate and passionate about what you do. That’s probably the hardest thing that I had to find here at CSU, and now my senior year has been awesome. One of my favorite aspects is to graduate after all the hard work.”
Morris has nearly no complaints about the accommodations CSU has offered him as a disabled student.
“I have yet to have a problem at CSU. Every professor has been so accommodating and awesome, never once a problem,” said Morris. “The only thing I would say is that the handicapped desk area in most classrooms sucks. If we could get some more room for people in chairs that would be great. I’m in a powered chair, I’m a big guy, I’m 6’5’’, so I would love a little more space around the desks.”
Morris was on an antenna-propelled manual wheelchair for five years before he switched to a powered chair. And that is when his idea for his business took off.
“While I was attending CSU I realized ‘Oh man, why do I have somebody pushing me around? I would rather jump into one of these powered chairs so I can do everything on my own,’” said Morris. “And that’s when I made the realization of ‘Hey, why does my powered chair have suspension and not my manual chair?’ The quality of ride is so much nicer when a chair has suspension.”
That’s when he came up with his idea. He took a class for his business minor last spring called Introduction to Entrepreneurship, and he brought up his idea to his professor and explained that he wanted to take it further. At the end of the class, professor Burton Deines showed him the Venture Accelerator Program through the Institute of Entrepreneurship, which is in the College of Business. That’s where he found his colors.
Last fall, Morris created and became the CEO of a company called QuadshoX, seeking to provide rear-wheel suspension for manual wheelchairs. He partnered with two engineering students who he met through the Venture Accelerator Program. Josh Gladfelter and Garret Ehrick have been responsible for the engineering and design aspects of the product.
“We are on our final round of prototypes,” Morris said. “We will get our final in here soon and we have 10 subjects ready to rock. They’re excited.”
One of the subjects is a 23-year-old from Fort Collins who has cerebral palsy and is non-verbal.
“That just touched my heart right there, just what you would have to go through and not be able to tell people about it,” Morris said. “It’s just one other reason why I’m doing what I’m doing. I know what it’s like and I would like to make people’s quality of life a lot better than what it is. So anything I can do to help is great.”
Venture Accelerator winner
QuadshoX participated in the Venture Accelerator Program, which is open to majors across campus. Morris’ invention won the largest prize in the 2014 Venture Accelerator Showcase, including $2,500 in legal fees, which bought the company a provisional patent, as well as $2,000 to use towards his business. He also received $3,000 from the Business Advancement Fund to help cover the costs of the company’s first round of prototypes, the trademark, a website, and a video for a Kickstarter campaign launching at the end of May.
Instead of hiring an ordinary company to put the QuadshoX kits together, Morris decided to have his products assembled through Pueblo Diversified Industries, a nonprofit organization that employs individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“They put my kits together, put them in a box with the instructions, and they get everything ready for shipment, and they ship it off to my distributors,” said Morris. “I also have a manufacturer in Mexico, and I deal with a shock company in Taiwan.”
QuadshoX is competing in the CSU Collegiate Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge in May.
Morris looks forward to staying in Fort Collins after graduation to fully dedicate himself to his new company, which will move into an office space in the Rocky Mountain Innosphere June 1.
Student writer and intern for the Division of External Relations at Colorado State University.