Social Innovation Challenge Winner Rolls out Third Wheel

June 16, 2017

Donna is director of operations at Momentum in Calgary, a CED organization offering programming in the areas of business development, skills training and financial literacy. In May 2016, Donna won $10,000 in our annual Social Innovation Challenge for Third Wheel, a new business offering emergency wheelchair repair services evenings, weekends and holidays. Donna has three sons, one of whom has cerebral palsy. She has spent much of her life helping her son live his best life, and knows firsthand that everyone can succeed if given the right tools and supports.

Give us the elevator pitch for your business.

Third Wheel  is a new business started by people with disabilities to solve a problem for people with disabilities. There were no wheelchair repair services in Calgary on weekends and holidays, so we stepped into that gap.

Where are you at with it now?

In order to open our doors with minimum overhead, we have partnered with an Edmonton company in the same industry, Eco Medical. Their company will provide mobility equipment and rehab supplies and Third Wheel will provide repairs and services.

We have started with a soft launch this month as they wait for some final government approvals, which gives them a valuable opportunity to test and refine their processes.

What have you learned so far in this project?

First, wanting to solve a problem and knowing how to do it are not the same thing. While we had two disabled individuals – Kasey Aeillo and Dom Shaw, wanting to do something about the lack of off-hours repair services, at the outset, they knew very little about starting and running a business. I connected them with Momentum’s Business Development department so they could get the training and support they needed.

Also, having disabled entrepreneurs solve a problem in the disabled community is a beautiful thing, but the reality is that those same entrepreneurs, because of their disability, come with challenges of their own that need to be overcome before the business can move forward. Providing the right support without taking over is paramount to building their capacity.

Partnering with an ally in the same industry has been paramount to Third Wheel’s development. Building partnerships rather than competitors has been the focus.

I looked at the website, and don’t see your name published on it. Can you say something about that?

My role in this whole venture was to support these two disabled entrepreneurs to build their own business. They are very connected, and very knowledgeable. All they needed was support behind the scenes. I am a partner, but not an equal partner and really don’t need any profile. In fact, my preference is to support other people to do their best work. That is where I work best.

What is the vision you are working towards?

First, we want people who use mobility aids to have access to repairs they need when they need them. We know what it means when someone’s wheelchair breaks down on a Friday evening.

But really we are working towards social change. Third Wheel is about two people who live in chairs creating a business and changing the way we look at people’s abilities and capabilities. Knowing the people fixing their chairs are disabled themselves helps shape the way people think about their own disabilities, and the way others think about it too.

How did the SFU CED program help you achieve your goals?

When I took the SFU Certificate Program for Community Economic Development, I had no intention of becoming an entrepreneur. I wanted to learn more about how community economic development really works.

Then for Anne Docherty’s course, Making Change Happen, the assignment was to identify a community issue and bring people together to talk about it. My oldest son is disabled and lives in a chair and that’s why this issue affects me and my family. I decided to reach out and find people who wanted to do something about it.

If I had not taken the CED course, I would still be sitting here, wishing someone would do something about the lack of wheelchair repair service. Being surrounded by like-minded learners and supported by the experience that everyone brings to the table was exactly what I needed to move forward.