- Associated Press - Sunday, May 21, 2017

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) - A project by the Holy Family Catholic Schools students to develop anti-rollback technology for wheelchairs could one day get rolling as a business, if two Wahlert Catholic High School students have their way.

Tony Ward and Grant Oberfoell, both seniors at Wahlert, have taken up a project that began when they were in eighth grade. They are working to find the resources to test, develop and distribute the product.

Their efforts have inspired the creation of a new class at Wahlert that instructors hope will allow even more students to follow the same path.

“My idea is to create as many young entrepreneurs as possible,” said Tim Ehrmann, a Wahlert business education teacher.

This year, Ward and Oberfoell decided to revive a project in which students created an anti-rollback device. It allows wheelchair users to go up inclines without the risk of rolling backward, which could cause injuries, Ward told the Telegraph Herald (http://bit.ly/2pU0dWl ).

The idea was born when the two were in eighth grade and were part of a FIRST Lego League team tasked with finding a solution to a problem elderly people face. During their sophomore year of high school, the two were on a team of students selected to develop the product for a national invention contest.

After that, Ward and Oberfoell continued to brainstorm ideas of what they could do next with the project.

This year, they entered the device in a University of Iowa contest and won $1,500 to continue developing their idea. In April, the two won an Aging2.0 chapter competition and they hope to advance further.

The goal for now is to fine-tune and test the invention and gather user feedback, they said. They’ve been working on a business plan and exploring funding opportunities, potentially by entering more competitions.

Their goal is eventually to launch the business and distribute their product.

“It’s been definitely one of the best learning experiences I’ve had, without a doubt,” said Ward. “Hopefully we can get it onto the market. But regardless, I’ve learned a lot about entrepreneurship and business and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), too, and it’s all things I hope to carry into my college and professional career.”

Oberfoell agreed that the process has been a good one.

“It’s been a real learning experience,” he said. “It’s really allowed us to experience a lot of different things. . We’re still seeing how far it can still take us. It’s been a very good learning process.”

The duo’s efforts have inspired a new class that will start at Wahlert this fall. During the semester-long course, students will define problems and figure out how to develop businesses aimed at solving them, according to Ehrmann.

Students who take Ehrmann’s class will work with students in science classes to develop projects as needed. Instructors are working on partnerships with community businesses and organizations to assist students.

The goal is that students will be able to continue developing their ideas once the class ends. Ehrmann’s goal is to put supports in place to help students continue their work.

“The ideas will start in here, and they’ll carry forward outside of the classroom as well,” he said. “That’s kind of unique in a classroom setting because a lot of the time when the semester ends, the content ends. I don’t want that to be the case at all. In an ideal sense, (to) have my classroom to be the Silicon Valley of the tri-state area if possible. That’s kind of the big picture idea I want to have for this course.”

Ward and Oberfoell said such a class would have been a benefit in their own efforts to launch their business idea.

“Having that time in school where . you’ve got an hour-and-a-half set aside every day to just focus purely on the invention, you could make some serious headway,” Ward said.

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Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com

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