A healthcare acquisition venture firm

Wheels of Fortune

Mitro Hood

Raskas: Custom chairs up to $30,000.

Wheels of Fortune

By Pete Pichaske

It took Meir Raskas exactly one semester of college to figure out what he really wanted to do in life: work.

“There are people who can go through four years of college and then go on and get their master’s degree, and they’re clueless,” says Raskas. “And there are people with no college or hardly any college, and they learn through experience and do well.”

Count Raskas among the latter group.

In 1993, with two college courses under his belt, $1,100 in his pocket, and a family to support, he began selling wheelchairs out of the basement of his parents’ Pikesville home. Today, the 33-year-old Raskas runs a $3.5 million-per-year medical supply company that has five trucks and 22 full-time employees, selling wheelchairs, hospital beds, shower chairs, walkers, and other “durable medical equipment.”

“We sell it all, but we specialize in custom-made equipment,” says Raskas. Some of his wheelchairs can cost as much as a BMW—up to $30,000. Raskas’ growing list of customers includes judges, politicians—even a member of the Saudi royal family, who was referred by Johns Hopkins Hospital.

“It’s a spiralling effect,” says Raskas. “If you do something right, people notice. I know people can’t wait for these wheelchairs, and we don’t make them wait.”

Raskas is not much for waiting himself. After dropping out of Towson State University after that one semester, he went to work selling car phones, then marketing medical equipment. In July 1993, he decided to go into business on his own. “I told my wife, ‘I’m starting my own business,’” recalls Raskas. “She cried for a couple of days. We had $1,100 in our savings account and a three-month-old daughter.” Raskas ignored the tears, took the plunge and got his first order—for a wheelchair. He called several manufacturers, but only one returned his calls: the Ohio-based Invacare Corporation. To this day, he still does business with Invacare whenever he can. “They made me feel like a million-dollar company when I was a five-dollar company,” he says.

When business got too big for him to handle, he hired his sister. And when his parents got tired of wheelchairs being stored on their front porch, he leased space on Greenwood Road in Pikesville and hired his first employee who was not a relative: Sharon Bull.

“I’d worked for corporations, I’d worked for independent businesses of my own, I’d done a little bit of everything. But this is like family here,” says Bull, who started as the company’s office clerk and is now director of operations.

“People like the services of a small company,” says Raskas. “Our time and our focus is on our clients.” That’s because his reputation comes first, making him take special note of the recent national Medicare probe into unscrupulous firms that have fraudulently used people’s Medicare ID numbers to bill the government for $167 million in wheelchairs that were never needed or delivered.

“I really encourage the investigation and prosecution of these firms,” says Raskas. “It’s a good thing because it will weed out the bad apples of the industry. The reputable firms will only benefit.”

Customers like Mark Eltringham appreciate his personal touch. “I was one of his first customers,” says Eltringham, 39, a quadriplegic who lives in Harford County. “I’ve bought all my equipment from them—wheelchairs, shower chairs, a ceiling lift, a hospital bed.”

Recently, Eltringham’s wheelchair broke down, leaving him stranded. He called Raskas at nine that evening, and an hour later, Raskas showed up at his door to fix the chair. “He’s wonderful,” says Eltringham. “Without my wheelchair, I’m lost, and he knows that.”