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Millennial entrepreneur in Mission Valley wins $10K for making beaches more accessible

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Access Trax makes modular pathways that can be arranged in any configuration, allowing easier access on outdoor terrain such as beaches, grassy parks and other uneven terrain.
(Courtesy of Access Trax)

Access Trax took first place in a competition put on by Connect All at the Jacobs Center, an incubator partially funded by the City of San Diego

A local startup competition just awarded $10,000 to 28-year-old Kelly Twichel, an occupational therapist in San Diego who’s making California’s beaches more accessible for those in wheelchairs.

Twichel is the founder of Access Trax, a startup that makes modular mats that can be arranged in any configuration to be used as pathways on rough terrain. The mats were designed with adaptive surfers in mind, who are often arriving at the beach using wheelchairs or other assistive technology.

Access Trax took home first place in a startup competition put on by Connect All at the Jacobs Center, a diversity-focused business incubator partially funded by the city of San Diego and Union Bank. The competition was the culmination of a six-month program for the first group of startups admitted to the new incubator. Access Trax competed against 12 other local startups, all led by minority founders or lower-income individuals.

A judging panel chose Access Trax as the winner, in part due to Twichel’s plans for the funds. She’s planning to use the cash to take Access Trax to accessibility conferences to meet more customers, hire its first employee, and prototype a new model that’s thicker and geared for government use as a semi-permanent installation.

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Access Trax co-founders Eric Packard (left) and Kelly Twichel (right) with adaptive surfer Bruno Hansen (center).
(Courtesy of Access Trax)

Access Trax is already being used by Golden Gate Recreational Area in San Francisco at several beach access points, along with Veterans Affairs and various nonprofits who host events for adaptive athletes.

Wheelchair-accessible mats can already be found on some local beaches, such as Coronado, which installed theirs this May. But Twichel said these mats are different than the ones she designed.

“The woven mats like the ones at Coronado move with the undulations of the underlying surface, so they can feel bumpy,” Twichel said. “People have a rough time propelling themselves over those surfaces. Our mats provide a firm and stable surface that feels like a sidewalk, so they don’t have to expend as much effort.”

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Twichel also said these mats are extremely heavy and difficult for one individual to install. Access Trax is manufactured in smaller 3-foot sections that can link up and fold away. That makes them easier for smaller organizations — or even families — to install on the fly. Twichel said customers use these mats on sand, snow, grass or gravel.

“There are plenty of uses other than beaches,” Twichel said. “People use them for camping, or visiting rivers and lakes. Really anywhere outdoors.”

Twichel said she’s currently bidding to install these mats at the Ocean Beach dog beach and other beach access points in the area.

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Reginald Jones, Jacobs Center president and CEO; Valerie Jacobs Hapke, board member of the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation; Kelly Twichel, founder and grand prize winner, Access Trax; Lydia Moreno, City of San Diego deputy director, economic development; and Union Bank regional president for San Diego Isai Amaya at the inaugural Entrepreneur Pitch Day Competition.
(Courtesy of Connect All at the Jacobs Center)

Although she first co-founded Access Trax with her business partner Eric Packard, he’s no longer involved in daily operations. Twichel wound down her work as an occupational therapist to focus solely on the company as its CEO. Twichel said she’s getting more involved in San Diego’s startup scene and greater community to propel the business forward. She’s currently in the running for a $25,000 grant through WomensNet for female startup founders, and so far is in the lead.

She said the biggest thing she learned at the Connect All incubator was the importance of networking and tackling local opportunities.

“You really have to put yourself out there and get comfortable with it,” Twichel said. “Sometimes putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation pushes you to be better. And you have to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, and seek those opportunities out because they won’t be handed to you at your desk.”

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