Imagine that your father was partially paralyzed in an off-road accident in 1974. Now, imagine that you were totally paralyzed from the neck down during an Indy Car test session in 2000. The irony is matched only by the horror of the reality.
And, yet, that's exactly what happened to Sam Schmidt.
While his devastating injury would have made many others pack up their bags and go home, Sam saw his disability as a challenge. In fact, he hopes to one day drive the very same 1999 Indy Car that nearly took his life. But, there's much more to Sam Schmidt than racing around an oval again.
Immediately following his accident in 2000, Sam and a few of his friends started The Sam Schmidt Foundation. Last year, with the blessing of Sam and his family, the name was changed to Conquer Paralysis Now (CPN) to mirror its mission.
I had the opportunity to speak with Schmidt not too long ago in hopes of understanding:
- How he overcame such a devastating injury
- What inspired him to create Conquer Paralysis Now
- How his new organization is faring
-What advice he'd give to other physically challenged individuals who yearn to start their own business.
Schmidt says that in the aftermath of his injury, he spent six months in a rehabilitation center. "I thought to myself, well I can do nothing or go the other way and figure out how to make the best of the situation." And did he ever. Thanks to technology and hard, gritty work, Schmidt learned how to do everything from riding an electronic bike to verbally texting and driving a self-guided wheelchair using head controls. But that wasn't enough. Schmidt wanted to be part of the solution to the problems faced by others who are physically challenged.
And so, he studied the market and discovered that 50 million Americans have some form of disability, 18 million struggle with mobility issues and another 6 million have some form of paralysis. It was a huge and, sadly, growing market that needed new solutions.
And, Schmidt had a solution.
Conquer Paralysis Now
CPN's Board of Directors and CEO are collaborating to help raise $30 million ($20 million in grants and prizes and $10 million for an endowment and capacity building). The first round of stage 1 is $700,000 for what Conquer Paralysis Now calls its inaugural challenge.
The challenge's goal is simple: help fund novel ideas to reverse paralysis that, often, never get off the ground due to a lack of initial data or are considered too risky. In Stage 1, Round 1 of the challenge, CPN awarded 10 researchers/scientists, from around the world, with $50,000 each and two teams, who are collaborating, $100,000 each. Submissions for Stage 1, Round 2 close on January 21st.
Another important aspect of the Challenge is for researchers to publish their failures, allowing other scientists and researchers to learn from negative results in order to avoid duplication of experiments while possibly leading to additional novel ideas.
Schmidt's hoping that, by funding truly unconventional, disruptive approaches, his organization will find a cure for paralysis within a decade. Like all who suffer from paralysis, he has had to learn how to accomplish everyday tasks in unconventional ways. So it is only fitting that researchers and scientists be encouraged to find cures in unconventional ways.
Advice for physically-challenged entrepreneurs
1.) I asked Schmidt what advice he'd give to others who are physically challenged and have the drive to start their own business. While most of the problems that face the physically challenged are the same as those without mobility issues, there are some areas specific to their situation. He listed five tips: Realize there will never be enough hours in the day. Strike the proper work life balance from day one. And be mindful that because every day normal tasks may take longer, you have less discretionary time in each day.
2.) Tap into available technology that can save you time and propel you towards success. Take the time to stay on top of advances in technology.
3.) Be patient and learn to delegate. Repeat. Learn to delegate. Note: CPN has six full-time employees in its Princeton office and Sam has two personal assistants/therapists.
4.) Rely on other people to execute your dream. It's your dream, but you are not the only one in it!
5.) No matter what your situation is, remember that it could be far worse, and your specific physical limitations give you the creative edge others lack.
If Schmidt's dream becomes a reality, he believes today's patients will regain such functions as taking their first steps, restoring bowel, bladder and sexual function, as well as reaching and grasping, among other things. And, all within 10 years' time!
Oh, and by the way, he has one other goal in mind: he intends to walk his 19-year-old daughter, Savannah, down the aisle when she gets married. Clearly, Sam Schmidt is a man who is paralyzed in name only.