Say Goodbye to the Common Wheelchair. Meet Whill

Personal mobility is changing… forever. Satoshi Sugie, CEO, and Atsushi Mizushima, Director of Business Development, talk about the hard work behind the product making process.

Whill Inc., headquartered in Melno Park, CA, is a hardware start-up that is making personal mobility much more stylish and enjoyable. Its first product, Whill, turns every wheelchair into an electric vehicle.

Everything started when the CEO Satoshi Sugie met one wheelchair user who told him “I wouldn’t go outside even to a grocery store two blocks away, unless ultimately necessary, because I don’t want to be seen as a ‘wheelchair user’.” These words struck Sugie and made him realize they suffered from the stigma attached to wheelchairs and drove him want to change that.

At that time, Sugie was after another entrepreneurial endeavor, but he frequently interacted with Naoto Sakakibara, an old friend and classmate, who was creating many novel and interesting tech products just for fun with engineers Junpei Naito and Muneaki Fukuoka. When Naoto moved to SF Bay Area, he met Atsushi who was at Stanford Graduate School of Business via common friends and clicked each other.

Sugie, Junpei and Muneaki incorporated WHILL in Japan in 2012. One year later, inspired by the mission of those three folks, Naoto and Atsushi joined. This spring the guys incorporated the US company WHILL, Inc.

The first days were not easy, but there was a lot of fun

“So far, we happened to be really hard working. Our typical day starts at 9:30 and ends at close to midnigh. We live on Jack in the Box and popcorn at TechShop, which is our office. Just until a couple of weeks ago, four of the founders lived together in a small bedroom and the couch. Every night we did a small game to compete for a bed, which was most comfortable place to sleep. However, we never missed any of the birthdays of each of the members and did surprise celebration or gifts”, Atsushi recalls.

Exciting moments

“Two weeks ago I was preparing for Demo Day and got countless pieces of feedback from Dave McClure and other presentation-guru-mentors at 500 Startups, which was extremely tough, but at the same time it was encouraging”, Sugie says.

“We are working hard on product development. We plan to complete a pre-sales model in November and start selling early in the next year.”

When asked about the futuristic design of Whill, Sugie explains that trying to see through the eyes of the users is essential:

“We believe design is not only about appearance or aesthetics. Design has a power to let people get over stereotype or change the mindset of people. I would say the question to ask myself should be if I see things through the users’ eyes and if I can work with imagination on not only appearance but also inside the mind of the users”.

US, EU, Japan…

“Our initial target is the US. Then we will expand to Japan and EU. We would like to penetrate in the community of users, make alliance with important stakeholders in the vertical (doctors, therapists, distributors and so on) and leverage social media as the development progresses”, Atsushi says.

“Being based in the Bay Area give us an important advantage as there are so many early adopters who are willing to try unconventional things, but for us is very important to expand worldwide and to support the lifestyle of as many people as possible”, the guys conclude.

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14 Aug, 2013 Jaril
superb invention great job
Fernanda Castelo
13 Aug, 2013 Fernanda Castelo
WHILL is beyond revolutionary. WHILL is movement for a user's lifetstyle, a progressive direction for individuals who are actively participating in living life to the fullest. WHILL is disrupting the mundane battery-operate d wheelchair, and its about time! WHILL is my ride.