Our cooling backrest cushion for wheelchairs, the wheelAIR, appeared on BBC2’s Dragons’ Den this month.
We are the most recent in a trail-blazing line of innovative disability products that have braved the ‘shark tank’.
1 in 5 people in the UK are classed as a disabled consumer. This significant group are not to be overlooked – they have a £200 billion spending power. Therefore, it is not surprising that pioneering assistive tech creations are increasingly being developed to capture the so called ‘purple pound’.
Whilst we were researching past pitches on Dragons’ Den (in preparation for our own pitch) we were inspired to see the range of innovative mobility related ideas showcasing nationally. These ideas have now, more often than not, gone on to improve accessibility, mobility and life-quality.
Even though we would like to, we can’t name them all. Therefore, this blog names and explains our four favourite assistive tech products that have appeared on Dragons’ Den. We hope it will help to inspire anyone with a budding mobility innovation to start developing!
The New and Improved Blue Badge Cover
Appeared on Dragons’ Den: 2015, 13th Season
Company Director: Ellen Green
We absolutely love this modern take on display wallets for disabled parking permits!
Ellen Green decided to design her own Blue Badge cover after her flatmate received her first disability permit and they couldn’t source an attractive, simple holder to keep it in.
The only wallets available were “sterile, plastic and embossed with wheelchair logos,” says Green.
Conversely, her covers are characterised by their bright floral prints, hand-sketched animals and classic herringbone and houndstooth patterns. She soon expanded to jazzing up various other living aids as well, including walking stick bags and hot water bottle covers!
Green felt that consumers had “been limited in choice to dull, clinical products that say more about their disability than personality and tastes.” She wants this to change and to offer disabled consumers stylish and desirable products. Here at wheelAIR, we could not agree more! It is a core aim for us to reintroduce style to the wheelchair cushion market, an important element often overlooked in the mobility industry.
Even though Green initially felt it was more a hobby that a career, the more wallets The Blue Badge Company sold the more they realised it was fast turning into a legitimate and successful business.
After an order of 10,000 covers from Boots, Green turned to the Dragons to help her with investment in order to scale up quickly.
In the Den
After a successful pitch, where Green asked for £70K in exchange for 7% of the company, Touker Sutherland was interested in investing. He offered £70K but for a 35% stake. However, this was too high a percentage for Green and, bravely, she turned him down.
Turning down the investment did not hold The Blue Badge Company back. After the show aired website sales went through the roof. In the 24 hours after their TV appearance, they received two months worth of orders in 24 hours. Equally, soon after the filming, the company recieved an investment of £36K from other sources.
Ellen commented that the company is still reaping the benefits from appearing on the Den. They now are stocked in several major retailers and their website sales continue to soar.
The All-Terrain Mountain Trike
Appeared on Dragons’ Den: 2013, 11th Season
Company Director: Tim Morgan
This cleverly designed all-terrain wheelchair embodies so much of what we love about mobility innovation.
Similarly to Corien with the WheelAir, Tim Morgan’s idea for the Mountain Trike was born during his time at university. His engineering design degree, later experience with a car manufacturer and love of mountain biking stood him in good stead to design this innovative new wheelchair.
He designed the Mountain Trike range as all terrain outdoor wheelchairs with rugged good looks, lightweight aluminium frames and high end Mountain Bike technology. These wheelchairs are versatile in many situations – easily managing snow, mud and sand. They are amazing pieces of equipment which, as the wheelAIR does, allow people to get out and get active. Again, the emphasis on appearing stylish sets this wheelchair apart from other mobility products.
In the Den
The Dragons were impressed by the Mountain Trike and Morgan’s pitch. He was offered 100K by Deborah Meaden who was incredibly inspired by the idea but for 15% rather than 5% stake in the business as originally requested. In the same way as Green, Morgan stuck to his guns and turned down her offer. He had confidence that his product had serious potential beyond what the Dragons were able to offer.
His confidence has certainly payed off. The coverage from Dragons’ Den led to wider market saturation and the Mountain Trike company continues to grow. They continue to sell units across the world online and via a distribution network.
Appeared on Dragons’ Den: 2016, 14th Season
Company Director: John Nicholls
Although not solely a disability product, this simple idea is a must-have for dog owners with limited mobility.
The HandiScoop is an excellent piece of assistive tech for dog owners – especially for those with disabilities. Lightweight and super strong, the long and powerful scoop allows people to easily pick up after their dog. The simple and effective design means the user does not have to bend down at any point.
Nicholls asked for a £45K investment for 15% share in his business. Unfortunately, after delving a bit deeper into the company’s Intellectual Property rights it turned out that John did not own all of his own patents. This certainly put the Dragons’ off. So in the end, no offers were made.
We still think it’s a great idea though, John!
Even though he didn’t receive any investment, John’s appearance on TV has helped HandiScoop to flourish. He was reportedly inundated with purchase requests after appearing on the show – and now the HandiScoop available to purchase on amazon, Pets at Home and Pet Planet (to name a few)!
Dragons’ Den Appearance: 2013, 11th Season
Company Director: Richard Ernest
These clever “pop-up” spaces impressed us. Their attention to detail has proven an excellent means of improving the lives of those with dementia.
Richard Ernest came up with the RemPod in 2009 after striking up a close friendship with an elderly neighbour with dementia who subsequently went to live in a care home. There are over 800 thousand people living with dementia in the UK. Richard came to understand how important familiarity is to those with the illness and that care homes needed more stimulating surroundings.
With this in mind, he designed a cost-effective “pop-up” reminiscence room that would enable a care home to transform their clinical space into a reassuring environment.
The rooms are fantastic, depicting scenes from days gone by. They include a pop-up 1950’s and 60’s living room, a vintage pub and even a nostalgic seaside scene!
In the Den
Ernest accepted an offer of £100K investment from Peter Jones and Deborah Meaden in exchange for 45% of his company! He had originally asked for £100K for a 25% stake, but he felt the depth and combination of Peter and Deborah’s knowledge and experience was worth the extra 20% stake.
Thanks to the Dragons’ cash injection, RemPods has now expanded its product range to include interactive wall features (wow!) as well as offering a full decoration service to care homes, the NHS and private hospitals. The company continues to improve the quality of life for those with dementia.
Each of these socially conscious products uniquely contributes to society. Regardless of the whether a deal was made or not, each has benefitted immensely by appearing on Dragons’ Den and reached a far wider audience than previously imaginable.
Even though it is only a few weeks after our own appearance on BBC2, we can confirm Dragons’ Den has provided us with unparalleled publicity. In the first 24 hours, our online sales increased by 100%. We would certainly recommend it to any budding entrepreneur ready to unleash their innovation!
If you want to read more about what it’s really like to be in the den, take a read of our CEO Corien Staels’ blog post on her experience pitching the WheelAir.