Scottish wheelchair pioneer wins entrepreneur award

GLASGOW businessman Alex Papanikolaou has won a major award for disabled entrepreneurs after developing a next generation power wheelchair.

Alex Papanikolaou. Picture: Contributed

EasyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou and leading international charity Leonard Cheshire Disability announced Alex was the winner of the Stelios Award - along with £30,000 prize money.

Alex’s business, Freedom One Life, has developed a power wheelchair designed to offer a step change in reliability, performance and support in the power wheelchair market.

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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.

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“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 four fellow winners.”

Penny Moraunt, 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.”

Alex was raised and works in Glasgow and has used power wheelchairs since school.

He has visited 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 10th 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.”

Leonard Cheshire Disability is the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of services for disabled people.