HandiCup: Necessity Spawns a Great Wheelchair Accessory

By Chris Stigas, HandiHelp

I'd like to take a minute to share my story and how HandiCup came to be.

In November 2014, after suffering a spinal cord injury from a freak accidental slip and fall into the bathtub, life using a wheelchair suddenly became my reality. One day, while still in rehab, I was feeling restless and decided to go for a cruise using my powerchair. Ambitiously, I headed to Yorkdale Shopping Mall—my old stomping grounds.

I travelled 14km/8mi on a hot, Toronto summer day. By the time I arrived, I was suffering from heatstroke and severe dehydration! The paramedics had to ice me down to reduce my body temperature. Due to my limited hand function and design of my wheelchair, I hadn't figured out a way to carry water with me and be able to access it on my own. Turns out, that happened to be the hottest day of that summer.

I remember thinking—this can't happen again, there's got to be a better way! No way was I going to let my disability stop me. I had to try something.

HandiCup: Necessity Spawns a Great Wheelchair Accessory

Wheelchair User Devises Product to Promote Active Living

Living using a wheelchair doesn't stop me from wanting to live an independent and active lifestyle. I wanted to be able to continue living comfortably using my wheelchair and not worry about running into a dehydration problem again. All the conventional wheelchair cup holders available on the market were either too flimsy or mounted in a manner that was not secure.

I needed something that would work for my limited hand function and would also never get knocked off my wheelchair. That's when I invented HandiCup! The securely mounted, user friendly, functional cup holder that's guaranteed to never lose a drink!

I began to google "patent lawyers near me", "3-D prototype printing near me", "injection moulding near me". I started making phone calls for appointments and began interviewing people for my idea. Before I knew it, I had a prototype with pending trademarks and patents, as well as a local injection moulding factory all ready to go!

HandiCup: Necessity Spawns a Great Wheelchair Accessory

It's at this stage that I doubted myself the most and if I was really going to go through with this. I started a fundraiser and asked friends and family to help me with some of the finances to get started. This help was crucial to getting me off the ground and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have those relationships and resources. Just the price of the moulds—Canada and USA patent with trademark applications only—is enough to invoke feelings of nausea. That being said, I made the decision that the regret of not moving forward on my idea would be exponentially worse than failing. Then, there was no turning back.

Entrepreneur Pivots to Make Disability-Friendly HandiCup Happen During Covid

Slowly I began to build things related to starting a company and product. I created logos, letterheads and business cards. I created social media accounts across-the-board on all platforms. YouTube was my best friend. I watched "how to" videos on EVERYTHING. I called on my friends—steady!  I'm sure at some point they might've been annoyed; LOL but I continued to ask for help. I have a huge amount of gratitude for all of them.

Originally my business plan involved "live in person" trade shows and demos in rehab hospitals or facilities. Boy, did that plan end up in the tank! That was 2019 pre-restrictions and pre-government mandates. Covid completely vaporized all my planning for in-person demonstrations and selling demos.

HandiCup: Necessity Spawns a Great Wheelchair Accessory

After waiting a couple of months for things to go back to "normal," I quickly realized this was not going back to "normal" anytime soon. I once again relied on YouTube for ideas on how to transform your business in times of tremendous uncertainty. Online was the silver lining of all this and it forced me to create a social media presence across multiple platforms and, because of that pivot, I was able to save my business from failing before it even started. Prior to my accident I didn't even own a computer! And now you can find HandiCup on six different social media platforms with more to come I'm sure.

As things start to recover from government restrictions and in-person shows, demos and exhibitions become available once again, this will be another layer I can use to build on top of a solid online foundation. I don't think I would've had both if not for the pandemic.

Now a full two years out from the start of the pandemic, you can find HandiCup across Canada as well as the USA, Europe, Japan and Australia. Wellwise Home Health Care stores by Shoppers Drug Mart, two different national medical equipment chains (one in the US) are proud HandiCup distributors, all without even leaving my house!

It's at the moment I decided to "try" that I realized, through very unfortunate circumstances, I had a very unique opportunity of a blank life canvas, and could really be and do anything I wanted.

Even if I never had my accident, I would have never lived my life looking backwards. It was an extremely difficult distinction to make, but when I finally did, I realized that the opportunities and possibilities for my future would not only be positive and soul filling—but they would be endless.

My favourite quote is: "Don't look back, you're not going that way".

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