From Walking Alone to Wheelchair Super Heroes
Over the winter break I had the chance to connect with Lejla Arapcic, a Babson One Year MBA student. Lejla shared a bit about herself and also spoke about her ongoing involvement with Wheelchair Man, now RIM Power – Redefining Normal, a company that is developing a portfolio of assistive technologies for wheelchairs, based on the founder’s experiences and inventions, and a wheelchair superhero-themed comic book series. Founded by Mohammad Said, an inspiring Afghan-American who lost his legs as a young boy in Afghanistan during an explosion, RIM Power is in the process of building a management team, developing their technologies (including their Key to Freedom kit) and seeking sponsors, corporate partners and capital. Lejla tells us more.
Grad CCD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Lejla: I come from a disadvantaged community which now, as an outsider, I clearly see as a very corrupted environment with outdated and badly implemented systems that slow down the overall economic growth and prosperity. Bosnia and Herzegovina, my home country, went through a war in the 90s, and now is a nest of opportunities for improvement and innovation. With proper education, clear vision of viable and feasible solutions, and the adequate tools to implement them, I have an opportunity to help aid the change in this disadvantaged, dysfunctional or unhealthy environment, as well as the other environments that face the same problems. I believe that the biggest impact and change on communities can be brought through a combination of entrepreneurial spirit, solid business-based deep functional knowledge, proper tools to implement that knowledge, and through teamwork with knowledgeable people that share the same vision.
I came to the USA by myself as a teenager with only one goal – to get educated. On that path, I was alone, and constantly in “survival mode”. I made many decisions that would only help solve the current situation as I had no money and no support, always working two, three jobs, even while in school, yet giving back to community was always somewhere in my mind. Regardless of the situation, I was able to focus on developing my career while finding time to express my creativity through many hobbies, I had energy and will to initiate and participate in many cultural and solidarity events in our community, and recently as a board member and now a president of the non-profit New England Friends of Bosnia and Herzegovina, develop valuable personal relationships with individuals and organizations in Bosnia and other countries, through which I have learned the true value of working together and helping others.
This American journey helped me find my purpose. My long term vision is to find a way to combine all my experiences and efforts into solid deep functional business knowledge that I will be able to use to help people and organizations innovate, grow and create value, especially in environments where there are no appropriate tools to improve living standards, and where the positive change seems impossible. I want to help aid positive change in communities through business.
As of today, I have developed a diverse professional and educational background. I studied electrical engineering in Bosnia, earned a Finance degree in Boston, worked in various corporate and non-corporate environments in the past decade, worked for global as well as private companies and, through Babson, I got a chance to work on various projects including global companies like Converse. I am using the Babson College Graduate School of Business MBA program as a journey to become an entrepreneurial leader who truly can impact communities and drive the necessary changes to improve the lives of others through social innovation and entrepreneurship. I also am using it as a tool that will help me shift from the financial corporate world to life sciences industry, as I would like to become a strong contributor to businesses in that sector, and help organizations, NGOs, and governments innovate, grow, and bring solutions that improve living conditions and create social value.
Grad CCD: How did you discover the Wheelchair Man project?
Lejla: Through Babson’s Center for Career and Development. It was initially promoted as an unpaid internship focused on developing and writing the business plan for a start-up based on a vision of a social inclusion and increased independency of persons in wheelchairs. I was truly touched by Said’s story and immediately felt the connection as there are similar war related experiences in our past. His vision and the idea for the company seemed to be a perfect example of a project I would have liked to be involved with, thus, I have contacted the existing Advisory Board and Said, and after a couple of meetings, testing the waters and my knowledge, execution potential and the passion for such an endeavor, they have presented me with an opportunity to fully engage in the creation of the company as a co-founder with the young Said. It seemed like they were waiting for someone like me, so I accepted, and that is how our journey started.
Grad CCD: Tell us a bit about the work you are doing for Wheelchair Man? Are you leveraging some of what you’ve learned from the MBA program so far?
Lejla: As of my involvement in The Wheelchair Man Project we decided to create two separate “entities” – profit and a non-profit one. The company, RIM Power, will be a profit based LLC with a vision of creating a wheelchair addition product kit “Key to Freedom” that will enable persons in the wheelchairs to be more independent. All attachments in the kit are customizable, 3D-printable, magnetized, adjustable and inexpensive, which will truly differentiate us from anything currently available on the market. The non-profit entity will be based on developing Wheelchair superhero characters, comic books, and media that will be used to empower and more actively engage children in disadvantaged communities all over the world. I currently have a role of a Chief Operations Officer (COO) and I am in the process of writing both business plans. I am also planning the execution of fundraisers for the non-profit entity which are planned for the beginning of February. Said is currently working with the team of illustrators and narrators on developing four wheelchair characters, and the stories for the comic books that will culminate in the implementation of real life projects in four different countries of which the first two will be Afghanistan and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
On this journey, Babson’s Blank Center and Butler Venture Accelerator program offer valuable mentorship through which I can get help in moving the business concept forward, take advantage of work-space, get and exchange peers opinions in creating this venture, use expert advisers as mentors, as well as many other valuable resources. The knowledge I have acquired at Babson is of tremendous value, and truly helpful in transforming this idea into an actual business.
Grad CCD: How has your experience with the Wheelchair Man Project shaped your post-MBA goals?
Lejla: My experience with the Wheelchair Man project has definitely influenced my aspirations after completing the Babson MBA program. This wonderful idea is an example of an opportunity I was looking for and the business will require my full involvement and most of my time. The impact we can create with RIM Power is significant, and I believe that the passion, experience and knowledge of the team we currently have involved is a great platform for such project to become a successful one. Some major milestones are approaching as we are looking for funding, expanding our team, seeking partners, so stay tuned.