Scottish entrepreneur wins Stelios national award

11 November 2016

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 step change in reliability, performance and support in the power wheelchair market. 

Group photo of all finalists together with Stelios and Neil Heslop, chief executive of Leonard Cheshire Disability and Penny Mordaunt, minister for disabled people

In the awards ceremony at the Royal Hospital Chelsea attended by the iconic 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 and want to congratulate my four 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 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.’

The award, jointly run by the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation and the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability, recognises the achievements of disabled entrepreneurs in the UK.

Past winners have been drawn from the travel agency, building and IT sectors as well as businesses specialising in disability/mobility aids and services. 

Media enquiries

For media enquiries please email Claire Farrell on 020 3242 0204. Out of hours: 07903 949 388. The general press office number on: 020 3242 0399. 

For information or interviews with Sir Stelios, contact: Richard Shackleton, communications rirector for Sir Stelios on 07905 779 799/Tracy Ghori – UK coordinator on 07900 606 557. Email: richard.shackleton@easygroup.co.uk/ tg@stelios.com.

Notes for editors

Leonard Cheshire Disability is the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of services for disabled people. Our services include high-quality care and community support together with innovative projects supporting disabled people into education, employment and entrepreneurship. Worldwide, our global alliance of Cheshire partners supports disabled people into education and employment, and works in more than 50 countries. With over 7,500 staff, the charity supports over 7,000 disabled people in the UK. Follow us on Twitter: @LeonardCheshire

The Stelios Philanthropic Foundation is a registered charity in both Monaco and the UK and backs a number of charitable initiatives supporting entrepreneurship, education and the environment in the UK, Greece and Cyprus. Its “Food from the Heart” programme recently handed out its one millionth free lunchtime snack to beneficiaries in Greece and Cyprus worst hit by the financial crisis in southern Europe.

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