Alumni companies Electroninks, Intelliwheels see success at Research Park

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Josh George, graduate of the College of Media and founding partner of Intelliwheels, poses beside an early prototype he constructed.

By Jane Lee

With more than 90 companies at Research Park, over 400 University students are finding hands-on experience with part-time or full-time internships at startups and business incubators.

“It has been a great asset to the campus to have these large corporations and startups right here on campus land, contiguous with the main part of the University,” said Laura Frerichs, Research Park director. 

Frerichs highlighted two companies that have recently found commercial success with their projects: Electroninks and Intelliwheels.

Electroninks

Frerichs said Electroninks was started by research that was done through materials science at the University. She said there has been a lot of interest in science technology engineering, math education and teaching children about electronics. 

Electroninks’ first launched project, Circuit Scribe, is a pen that can draw circuits and has been sold through Electroninks.com and Amazon. Frerichs said projects that would normally use a breadboard or other types of circuitry to create lights could be done with these pens.

The company started a Kickstarter campaign and raised more than $650,000 in pre-sales from their product.

“Their goal had been $85,000, so this was a big deal,” Frerichs said.

Electroninks also pre-sold 15,000 Circuit Scribes and partnered with Autodesk, the maker of Adobe products, Frerichs said. 

Alumnus Brett Walker, CEO and cofounder of Electroninks, said the pen has been available for purchase since the launch of the company’s Kickstarter campaign in December 2013. 

“We’ve sold approximately 1.2 million in sales of the Circuit Scribe pen in total. We actually just started shipping as of August of this year,” Walker said.

Intelliwheels

Marissa Siebel, cofounder of Intelliwheels and Ph.D. student, said she began the company with alumnus Scott Daigle when he was a mechanical engineering student working in a wheelchair compulsion lab within AHS. It was Daigle’s idea to add gears to manual wheelchairs. 

During that time, Siebel was working with the Illinois Wheelchair Athletics program. The two combined her knowledge of wheelchairs with Daigle’s innovation to form a team.

Intelliwheels’ fully geared wheelchair is developed from the idea of a gear reduction system and will potentially cost between $500 and $700 for consumers. In August, the company received a $1.5 million grant from the National Institute of Health, which Siebel said will be used to develop the business. 

“Our product that we currently have out is a gear reduction system and it is just as if you were to downshift on your bike to make it easier to pedal when you go uphill,” Siebel said. 

She said this is useful for older people that have a hard time pushing themselves because it enables them to be independent and not have to rely on others to push them. 

Intelliwheels consistently works with groups of students from the University, Siebel said, to give them internship opportunities. The company has worked with teams of students from the Technology Management Program within the College of Business and with students who helped Intelliwheels build different structures of human resources and labor relations. 

“We have worked with a bunch of different student teams,” said Siebel. “We’ve recently hired two more engineers from the University. All of our employees are actually from the U of I.”

This includes alumnus Josh George, a University wheelchair athlete and Paralympian gold medalist.

“It’s been neat to see connections with the wheelchair athletes on campus getting excited about this company and just the history of accessibility technology from this University,” Frerichs said. 

Jane can be reached at [email protected].