How Sir Stelios is offering entrepreneurs with disabilities a chance for a £50k business boost

It's always been tougher for young people with disabilities to get ahead, whether it's through college, into a job or even starting their own business. If you are such a person or you know of a young disabled person who has started their own enterprise - or is thinking about it-  this post is definitely one you'll want to read and share.

The Stelios Disabled Entrepreneur Awards reward the unique talent and hard work of disabled people who have set up their own business. Starting your own business is incredibly rewarding, but also presents a host of unique challenges, and if you are also managing a complex health need or disability this can be even more difficult. The winner of the award receives a £50,000 prize to go towards the expansion of the business. It's the largest award of its kind.

Speaking as someone who has run a business both before and after a disability, I can testify that it's many times harder. When your health is poor or unreliable, or you live with pain or fatigue, you can not only work fewer hours in a day, but it throws up challenges such as managing travel - for fatigue, logistics and cost if you need help - and arranging your week so that you don't have too many really busy days in a row that will set your health back or cause a flare up. Sadly SNJ can't enter as we have no funding at all, let alone the £10k turnover limit, ha ha! We do it all for love (aah!)

Stelios logo

Around 50% of disabled people are unemployed, so it is clear that more needs to be done to overcome the barriers they face in the world of business. Sir Stelios says he hopes that this award will help overcome these obstacles and open up a whole new world of potential talent that would otherwise be wasted. Previous winners have included the founder of a building and design company, founder of a travel company for blind people, and a company supplying wheelchairs and fitness equipment for disabled people.

The award, jointly run by Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou's charity, the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation  and the Leonard Cheshire Disability charity, recognises the achievements of disabled entrepreneurs who have overcome challenges to set up their own company and excel in their chosen business field. Now in its ninth year, past winners have been drawn from the travel agency, homebuild and IT sectors as well as companies specialising in disability/mobility aids.

The deadline for 2015 applications is 5pm 18th September 2015 and is open to people who:

  • Have a recognised disability or health condition
  • Have at least a 25% management stake in your company
  • Have a business with at least a £10,000 turnover
  • Have a UK registered business
  • And whose business has been trading for 2-5 years

More details and the chance to apply can be found here:

"Creating opportunities for disabled people facing discrimination in business is essential. The Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs highlights their achievements and contribution to society. We want to hear from talented disabled entrepreneurs who are able to show they have got what it takes to run a successful business and meet a real need in the market."   Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou

Last year's winner...

Photo of benThe winner of last year’s award, Ben Wolfenden, founded his digital marketing company, Visibilis, in 2012, and whose company has gone from strength to strength. Ben has Cystic Fibrosis and Diabetes, meaning that he has to complete hours of physio and breathing treatments each day, but he was determined not to let this stop him. Here is what he had to say:

What issues did you have in finding suitable employment prior to setting up your own company?

There were several issues, many of which were just not explainable to an employer. Having an unseen disability means explaining why you can't always get into work on time, or why you need to leave early or why you need to take a nebulizer 3x a day, is all very hard and like every relationship it’s a case of building a rapport with them so they find it easier to understand.

What motivated you to start your own company, and what difficulties did you face when you first started or as a result of your medical condition?

There are difficulties are in every aspect of every business, not just when you're starting up, but when you have reached a secure level as well, just the difficulties/problems change.

One of the benefits of my own business is to be in control of my daily/weekly routine. With so many hospital appointments and random sick days, being your own boss means you can work different hours and you don't feel like you're letting anyone down.

You find a way to manage your time better when you work for yourself and this also involves managing your meetings and work load...growing a business alone is extremely difficult, so finding the best time to bring in a partner was crucial, which I did, and has helped to stabilise and grow our business.

What advice would you give to a young person (with a disability) who wanted to set up their own business?

Do it, but realise that success is in the small things. Have short, medium and long term goals, but don't berate yourself if you don't achieve them because many circumstances are out of your control. Just keep a good solid routine, talk to people, and make things happen.

Being my own boss allows me to have a level of independence I never thought possible. The worst part is the long hours, pretty much every day is a working day, but I love what I do so it never really feels like work.

I've found there is very little support for disabled people starting their own business, it's hard work and getting started is the biggest hurdle. Once you start help & advice is easier to find. Working for myself has had such a huge positive impact on my life and health, more than anything you can imagine. My health is stable and I have a growing business with a great team.

What was your experience of winning the Stelios award, and how has it helped your company to grow?

Winning the 2014 award has meant so much to me both financially and personally. I've been able to solidify the team and our offering, grow some fantastic new clients and build a better working environment for my health.  It was fantastic to win the Stelios award, although it was more about the recognition that anything else. Businesses need cash flow to grow, the winnings have helped me to commit to new hires and therefore helped our new business pipeline. It's a triple win!

If I was starting again, I'd invest in recruitment earlier!

Tania Tirraoro

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