A company that has developed a mechanism to change how wheelchairs are propelled by their users won the grand prize in the 2012 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, organizers announced Wednesday.

Read Journal Sentinel story here.

RoWheels, led by Rimas Buinevicius and Jan Moen of Madison, worked with a NASA engineer to create a geared wheeling system that allows a wheelchair to be pulled forward by its user rather than the traditional pushing motion. The technology requires less effort by users while reducing strain on shoulders, joints and muscles.

“The primary reason we took this project on was the ability to build it in Wisconsin with manufacturing expertise we already have here,” said Buinevicius, who spent eight weeks in a wheelchair following an accident. Salim Nasser, a NASA space engineer, drew on 15 years of experience in a wheelchair to help design the mechanism.

The RoWheels was the first-place winner in the Advanced Manufacturing category of the contest. Other category winners were:                                                                                                                            

Business Services: Style Shuffler is a licensed “white label” mobile application for retailers to improve customer experience in making clothing and accessory selections.

Information Technology: Strategic Fishing Systems is using patent-pending innovation in geographic information systems to develop Contour Elite, which can predict fish locations.

Life Sciences: Reza-Band is a product of Somna Therapeutics, a medical-device company focused on improving the quality of life for people suffering from extraesophageal acid reflux.

The awards were announced at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee, where the top 12 contestants squared off in making oral presentations on their plans. Some 248 entries were received in January from contestants in more than 75 communities. About 65 judges and mentors took part throughout the contest’s four stages. Second- and third-place winners in the ninth annual contest were:

Advanced manufacturing: Justin Reed, C-Motive Technologies, Madison; Robert Shimmel, NCD Technologies, Middleton.

Business services: Ryan Dover, LocalGrown, Lake Geneva; Christopher Kemp, Soil & Sediment Clean-up, Milwaukee.

Information technology: John Bender, Simple Campus, Sussex; Chris Johnson, Pilot Training System, Madison.

Life Sciences: Ankit Agarwal, Imbed Biosciences, Madison; Frederick Montgomery and Duncan Bathe, Novel Nitric Oxide Treatment, Middleton.

More than $200,000 in cash and in-kind prizes have been pledged for the 2012 contest. Sponsors are: 5Nines/Matador Consulting, Aberdean Consulting LLC, American Transmission Company, AT&T, Attivo Technologies, Baird Venture Partners, City of Waterloo, Cornerstone Properties, Design Concepts, Earth Information Technologies, Exact Sciences, Flaherty & Associates, Flanagan Financial, Functional Biosciences, Kohner Mann & Kailas, Madison Gas & Electric Co., Marshfield Clinic Applied Sciences, MasterCard, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, Microsoft, The Milwaukee Institute, Park Towne Development, Perkins Coie, Pieper Properties , Murphy Desmond S.C., Quarles & Brady LLP, Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren S.C., Revelation, Rusk Prairie Consulting, Smith & Gesteland LLP, State of Wisconsin Investment Board, Starkweather & Associates, University Research Park, Urban Land Interests, UW-Madison Office of Corporate Relations, VentureLab , Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., WisBusiness.com, Wisconsin Angel Network, Wisconsin Technology Council, Wisconsin Technical College System Foundation.

One-paragraph descriptions of each of the top 25 plans are available here. Reporters wishing to contact individual contestants may do so through the Wisconsin Technology Council by calling 608-442-7557.