Disabled Hull businessman David Hawkins has won a prestigious award from easyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou at the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs 2012.
David has overcome many challenges to set up his thriving firm, Cyclone Technologies. Now, he is enjoying his moment in the sun after Sir Stelios identified his business as simply the best.
David, 56, who is paraplegic, has seen off tough competition to win the award, a competition run by the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation and the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability. Now in its sixth year, the award recognises the unique achievements of disabled entrepreneurs and offers a £50,000 cash prize to the winner – the largest cash sum of its kind.
Cyclone Technologies supplies wheelchairs and fitness equipment to disabled people in the UK and Ireland, importing products from the USA, Europe and Israel. David owns 50% of the business, which he set up with colleague Stuart Dunne, who also uses a wheelchair, in 2009. Their products include bespoke, lightweight wheelchairs, accessible gym equipment, Functional Electrical Stimulation equipment (designed for people with spinal injuries or neuromuscular conditions) and ReWalk, mobility devices for people with severe walking impairments.
This year David and his team supported Claire Lomas, who was paralysed in a horse riding accident five years ago, to do the London Marathon in a ReWalk suit. The suit helped her move her knees and hips to let her walk at the flick of a button through a computer-based control system and motion sensors. They helped her train and also gave her support throughout her challenge.
In their head office in rural East Yorkshire, an area of high unemployment, David and Stuart employ only local workers. Their sales team is made up solely of wheelchair users covering the whole of the UK and Ireland.
David says: “I am thrilled to have won this award. It means so much to me and will make the world of difference in my plans to grow my business.”
But setting up a growing, healthy business wasn’t all blue skies for David. In 1980 he was driving to work when he had a road accident and acquired a spinal injury. He says: “I used to work in building and joinery, but after becoming paraplegic I had to move away from my original career path and retrain myself completely. I had to develop skills and knowledge of an industry of which I had no previous experience.
“One advantage of running a business aimed at other disabled people is that I have found I can empathise with my customers. I am at an advantage when I am choosing products and demonstrating their benefits to potential customers because we have faced similar hurdles. I have found this to be hugely rewarding, and hope I can continue to find innovative new products to introduce into the UK market to enable disabled people to have access to the best products.
“Technology is the new frontier in the disabled market and there are a whole range of new products for different needs, from systems that can mechanically make a paralysed person walk, to innovations that can electronically trigger muscles.”
David was announced winner of the 2012 Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs in the UK at a special awards ceremony held in London on 3 December 2012, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
Sir Stelios says: “I have been really impressed by David’s business, his drive and enthusiasm.
“I am passionate about encouraging entrepreneurship, and the previous winners of this award offer proof that there are many highly talented disabled entrepreneurs out there.
“With around 50 per cent of disabled adults out of work it is clear that there still is a long way to go. Removing the barriers disabled people face in business is essential, and I hope that the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs goes some way to highlighting their achievements.”
Clare Pelham,Chief Executive of Leonard Cheshire Disability says: “I would like to congratulate David on winning this award.
“This year’s award ceremony fell on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and there could not have been a more appropriate time for this occasion. The people who reached the final are all champions. We are delighted to highlight the contribution that they are making to the British economy. Each one of them is an example of the drive and determination that characterises entrepreneurs; and a particular example to young disabled people of the range of possibilities that lie ahead of them. We should all dare to dream. They have made their dreams real. And we applaud them for that.”
“We are delighted to work with Sir Stelios on an award that celebrates the remarkable achievements of disabled entrepreneurs
Leonard Cheshire Disability is one of the UK’s largest voluntary sector providers of services to disabled people. We support thousands of people with physical and learning disabilities in the UK and we work with Cheshire partner organisations in 54 countries around the world. We campaign for change and provide innovative services that give disabled people the opportunity to live life their way. Visit www.LCDisability.org
The Stelios Philanthropic Foundation is committed to dynamic philanthropy: making a positive, exponential difference through funding, inspiring and advising educational, entrepreneurial and environmental initiatives. To find out more visit; www.stelios.com