Ailbhe Keane, Founder, Izzy Wheels
Motivated by her younger sister, Ailbhe Keane founded Izzy Wheels. Here, she outlines how winning the Competitive Start Fund (CSF) benefitted the business, and what’s next.
Getting started – if you can’t stand up, stand out
My younger sister, Izzy, was born with spina bifida and is paralysed from her waist down. Growing up she found it very frustrating and upsetting that there was nothing available for her to personalise her wheelchair. Her chair was the first thing that people noticed about her, but it wasn’t a reaction of her bright and bubbly personality. I came up with the idea for Izzy Wheels in 2016 when I was in my final year in The National College of Art and Design. I designed a range of stylish wheel covers for wheelchairs so that users could express their individuality. We came up with the tagline ‘If you can’t stand up, stand out’.
Essentially, Izzy Wheels transforms a medical device into a piece of fashion and self-expression. The waterproof wheel covers come in 3 sizes and fit onto any manual wheelchair.
I founded Izzy Wheels when I was just 22 as a very personal project and I never anticipated it growing into a global business. We launched the online store and quickly began shipping our designs all over the world. As a result of one of our video going viral, we had to rapidly scale the company to keep up with the huge demand! The pressure was enormous, but I learned so much during those few weeks and drank a lot of coffee! Success can’t happen without hard work but if you are passionate, driven and excited by what you do then nothing should get in the way of that.
Applying for CSF
A need to scale the business became apparent very quickly and I knew we had to make the most of the opportunities that were coming our way so, I applied for CSF funding.
I won the Female Founders CSF and beyond the funding, it was a great way to meet strong like-minded women. It really helped me grow my network. The funding gave us more freedom to grow our team and invest in marketing.
Advice for future applicants
Make sure you have a strong team behind you. It's also important to have a clear financial plan - be very clear on what you intend to spend the money on in your application.
We are creating a fashion brand for wheelchair users. Until now wheelchair users have had no choice in the appearance of their equipment. We have hundreds of artists constantly writing to us asking if they can contribute to Izzy Wheels because they believe in what we are doing so much. We have worked with world famous designers to create our new and most special collection, which allows users to transform their devices into works of art. We are reinventing the wheel. We will continue to grow our team and spread our message ‘If you can’t stand up, stand out!’
Interested in applying for the Competitive Start Fund – Graduate Entrepreneurship? Find out if you’re eligible and how to apply here