PICTURED: Alex and finalists in the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs with Sir Stelios, Leonard Cheshire Disability chief exec Neil Heslop and Minister for Disabled People, Work and Health, Penny Mordaunt
WHEELCHAIR user Alex Papanikolaou has won £30,000 for designing a new powered chair that could revolutionise people’s lives.
EasyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou and leading international charity Leonard Cheshire Disability announced Alex Papanikolaou, from Glasgow, as the winner of the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs 2016.
Alex’s business, Freedom One Life, developed a next generation power wheelchair, designed to offer a step change in reliability, performance and support in the power wheelchair market.
At the awards ceremony, held at London’s Royal Hospital Chelsea attended by Chelsea pensioners, Alex said:
“I started this business three years ago with the vision of a better product and service to give people independence and add freedom to their lives.
“Winning this award is huge recognition that what started as an idea is going to become a reality for thousands of people around the world. I am very grateful to Stelios and Leonard Cheshire for this award.”
Alex has used power wheelchairs since his school days, visiting over 175 cities in over 40 countries with his powerchair, but claims he was continually let down by it due to breakdowns. This led to his vision of creating a more reliable, durable power wheelchair.
Impressed by the idea, Sir Stelios said: “I am delighted that Alex has won this year’s award. The ability to move around is fundamental and his Freedom One Life chair has great potential.
“It was an incredibly difficult decision as all candidates were of an exceptionally high standard.
“The range of businesses and start-up was phenomenal and a testament to people’s creativity and resilience.”
Leonard Cheshire Disability chief executive Neil Heslop said: “Alex’s business is a fantastic example of the kind of innovation that disabled entrepreneurs are creating right now, across the UK.
“However, Leonard Cheshire Disability is all too aware that the contribution of disabled people is often overlooked, and less than half the disabled working-age people in the UK currently have jobs.
“We know this year’s finalists send out a strong message that challenges assumptions about what disabled people can or cannot do. It is clear that disabled people are making an immense entrepreneurial impact on our society.”
Penny Mordaunt, Minister for Disabled People, Work and Health, said:
“Disabled people are one of the most entrepreneurial groups in society, so the quality and quantity of entrants for these awards has come with no surprise.
“My congratulations to all the finalists for their success, and I hope this celebration of their achievements wakes others up to the vast potential of disabled people and increases their opportunities.”
The other finalists were:
Andrew Graham — Pop-Up Gym
Pop-Up Gym provides rehabilitation and fitness for people by bringing the gym to them. The company provides a fun and pleasant environment for clients to exercise without feeling self-conscious.
Matt created an app which reads menus for blind and visually impaired people. It is already used around the UK by chains such as Carluccio’s, Côte, Nando’s and Pret á Manger.
Scott Smith — Invictus Active
Invictus Active provides products to help disabled people keep active on a daily basis. Their products include accessible bikes and the ‘Invictus Active Trainer’ which helps wheelchair users to improve fitness, balance and technique.
Dave Kelly — Daisy UK
Daisy UK runs sports courses for schools, colleges and after school clubs, among other organisations. It also offers pan-disability sports clubs.
All received £10,000 prizes.