wheely good idea | 

Irish entrepreneur persuades BBC Dragons to invest £40,000 in wheelchair business

Matt, who now lives in Ascot, is permanently paralysed from the waist down and while Cristian is paralysed from the chest down

Matt Walker, left, and Cristian Brownlee© BBC

Eamon DillonSunday World

Irish entrepeneur Matt Walker has persuaded the hard-nosed Dragons’ Den panel to pledge a £40,000 investment in his wheelchair company.

Walker, who grew up in Kildare and his business partner Cristian Brownlee, entered the BBC’s Den to make a pitch for a stake in their business which assembles and distributes an all-terrain wheelchair.

In Thursday night’s episode they successfully negotiated a joint offer from Touker Suleyman, Sara Davies and Steven Bartlett, who each pledged a third of the money for a five per cent share of the business.

Both men are wheelchair users after accidents causing spinal damage and run Adapt Ability which they set up to assemble and distribute the high-tech Omeo wheelchair

Matt, who now lives in Ascot, is permanently paralysed from the waist down and while Cristian is paralysed from the chest down.

Having led physically active lives before their accidents they wanted chairs that would give them improved mobility, eventually finding the New Zealand made Omeo.

“Shortly after my accident a group of my Mum's friends in Kildare got together and raised the funds to buy an Omeo for me,” said Matt.

“It has changed my life radically for the better and I can never give enough thanks to the generous people of Kildare who came together to buy an Omeo for me.

“We were incredibly nervous entering the Den but very confident about the positive impact the Omeo will have for the lives of disabled people and we were over the moon when we received investment from three Dragons.”

The wheelchair allows users to travel over uneven terrain, scale inclines and to navigate troughs and bumps in the ground.

Matt said the chair “saved me from myself to be honest. Before my injury, I was a greenkeeper and tree surgeon. I loved the outdoors. I loved walking, running and climbing.

“When I realised I was paralysed and would be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life it was devastating. Mentally I struggled with the idea of being 'trapped' in my chair. I struggled with the idea that I wouldn't be able to access the places I loved. I struggled with being 'seen' in my chair.”

He said his Omeo chair now is usually the talking point when he goes rather people asking about what happened to him.

“It is genuinely the closest thing I have to total independence. It has helped me both mentally and physically in the face of my paralysis and I feel proud to be on it.”

Cristian was the first person in the UK to use an Omeo and was amazed at how much more freedom to move around it gave him.

The two men came together to set up a business that would make the chair available across the UK, Ireland and Europe.

The company is operated by disabled people working to provide mobility solutions for disabled people.

Despite being paralysed from the waist down, Matt completed the gruelling Gaelforce Great Fjord Swim at Killary Harbour in 2019.

Just a year before he suffered the catastrophic injury to his spine while working as a landscaper.

A fundraiser was set up by a friend to buy his Omeo chair, with the excess going to fund virtual reality technology that’s used with people with similar injuries going through rehab.

At the time he admitted he “really struggled” with the psychological effects of no longer having the use of his legs but exercise and swimming offer an escape.

“When you’re in the swimming pool, no-one can see your legs. You are on a level playing field.”

He spent three months at the National Spinal Injury Centre, Stoke Mandeville in the UK where he learned how to make the most of his upper body strength to adapt to his new life from a wheelchair.

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