Two “driven and creative” disabled businessmen – who both run companies selling independent living aids – have been declared joint winners of a lucrative annual award.
The Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs is run by Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of easyJet, and his Stelios Philanthropic Foundation, and backed by the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability.
But this year Sir Stelios was unable to separate the top two finalists, and instead of awarding a single prize of £50,000, instead awarded two winner’s prizes of £50,000.
The winners, Rob Smith and Huw Thomas, both run their own companies, selling assisted living equipment.
Smith runs The Active Hands Company, which sells a range of gripping aids he designed himself, and which have proved popular for sports and leisure use, such as gripping gym equipment, snooker cues, and Nintendo Wii controllers.
He has also sold his products to members of the ParalympicsGB wheelchair rugby and rowing teams.
He said: “Active Hands are thrilled and honoured to be recognised with this award, which will enable us to further develop our business and products.
“Ultimately we will now be able to assist even more disabled people all over the world, increasing their independence and helping them to take part in sporting, practical and leisure activities which they would otherwise have found impossible.”
Thomas’s company, Promove UK, designs, produces and sells lightweight and portable slings, which are used to transfer disabled people when it is not possible for them to use a hoist.
Thomas, like Smith, started producing the slings after designing one for his own use.
He said: “With this fantastic prize I will be able to expand my business much quicker.
“In running my business, I face challenges every day. When I am away from home I need wheelchair-accessible accommodation, which can limit my choices. When I travel on business I have to take a driver with me. And because I have limited use of my hands I find typing increasingly difficult and use voice recognition software.
“But being disabled has its advantages, providing unique experiences and insights.”
His customers include fire, ambulance and police services, schools and colleges, baggage handlers at airports, holiday organisations, and individual disabled people.
The company has also supplied slings for aid operations in countries such as Haiti and India.
Sir Stelios said: “I would like to congratulate Rob and Huw on running successful businesses and displaying the drive, creativity and determination to reach the top and really fly.
“The £50,000 prize they have both received will ensure their businesses have an important boost for growth.”