Next-generation power wheelchair wins Stelios National Award
EasyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou and leading international charity Leonard Cheshire Disability announced today Alex Papanikolaou from Glasgow is the winner of the Stelios Award for disabled entrepreneurs 2016 and the £30,000 prize money.
Alex’s business, Freedom One Life, has developed a next-generation power wheelchair, designed to offer a steep change in reliability, performance and support in the power wheelchair market.
In the awards ceremony at the Royal Hospital Chelsea attended by the iconic Chelsea pensioners, Alex said: “I started this business 3 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 and want to congratulate my 4 fellow winners.”
Minister for Disabled People, Work and Health, Penny Mordaunt, 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.”
Alex, who was raised and works in Glasgow, has used power wheelchairs since school, 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.”
Alex wins on the tenth anniversary of this annual award and competition was particularly tough this year, following a record number of applications. The four finalist businesses to join Alex at the awards ceremony included an app for restaurant menus, portable gyms for wheelchair users, and inclusive training and community engagement. All take home £10,000 for their business ideas.
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.”