BEN HUNTZINGER invented Spartan Wheel Chariot wheelchairs. Before, he says, he was always having to adapt his wheelchair to keep up with his athletic lifestyle.
A budding entrepreneur with international sales potential is building specialized equipment right here in Cairo for people who love the outdoors. After a car wreck 10 years ago left him paralyzed from the chest down at the age of 22, Ben Huntzinger discovered the limitations of affordable wheelchairs. The standard wheelchair was incapable of keeping up with the athletic lifestyle he was used to living and planned to continue pursuing. “Most people in wheelchairs don’t think about going and pushing their wheelchairs miles and miles, but I did,” he says. “I finally learned, I’m just going to have to do this myself.”
When he moved to Cairo three years ago, Huntzinger says he built his first wheelchair prototype, drawing inspiration from a mountain bike. He says the bicycle’s suspension and shock absorbers soften the impact of rough terrain.
“The wheelchair I had at the time was $2,500 and had no suspension. This is a broke problem; I can fix this,” Huntzinger recalls thinking. “I bought a $100 welder from Harbor Freight and got after it.”
Soon afterwards, he enrolled at Southern Regional Technical College “to learn better ways to build my wheelchair.”
His rugged, outdoor wheelchair has 4-link suspension and pneumatic caster wheels. “I’m able to traverse any terrain, deep mud, sand. And, it keeps you very fit,” he says.
Earlier this year, Huntzinger entered the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s InVenture Prize contest. Competing against teams from two other technical colleges and 16 universities, Huntzinger presented his business solution before a panel of 20 preliminary judges. After that initial round, five student teams were selected to advance to the final round, which was televised live on Georgia Public Broadcasting. The finalist teams hailed from Georgia Tech, University of Georgia, Fort Valley State, North Georgia University, and Southern Regional Technical College.
The People’s Choice Award winner was the team of one, Huntzinger and his Spartan Wheel Chariots, which also won the overall second place prize.
His prize winnings included consultations with high-level business advisors and a cash prize totaling $25,000. He says he plans to invest all of the winnings into his dream of building wheelchairs that are durable, easily attainable, and affordable.
Huntzinger’s passion for his mission placed him in a position of prominence early in the competition, even among his fellow competitors. He has since been invited to speak to the leadership of the Technical College System of Georgia, to the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s executive board of directors, and at Athens Technical College. He’s also speaking on his 33rd birthday at SRTC’s graduation June 13.
All of this attention has expanded the reach of Spartan Wheel Chariots, and Huntzinger says people from all over the world are contacting him.
“It’s been like wildfire. I’m the only guy making this type of wheelchair on earth that’s in a wheelchair and selling it for $500,” he says. “Today, I am able to produce affordable and custom off-road wheelchairs that give wheelchair users more than just a new set of wheels. I am able to give them a lifestyle of self-reliance, confidence, and adventure.”
Huntzinger is continuing to take college classes and says he plans to graduate in December with an associate’s degree in drafting. After, he says, he will continue building wheelchairs.