Izzy Wheels named winner of 2017 Accenture Leaders of Tomorrow award

3 Apr 2017

From left: Izzy Keane with Accenture Ireland’s country managing director, Alastair Blair, and Ailbhe Keane. Image: Shane O’Neill Photography

Ailbhe and Izzy Keane, founders of Izzy Wheels, have taken home the grand prize at the 2017 Accenture Leaders of Tomorrow award.

The Accenture Leaders of Tomorrow competition recently marked its tenth year, in which the accelerator saw some of Ireland’s best and brightest entrepreneurs take to the stage to win over the judges with their business ideas.

The competition opened for applications on 4 December last year, and the number was whittled down to 18 in February. These applicants then had to convince a panel that their idea had what it takes to move on to the finals.

Idea born from frustration

On 30 March, eight finalists returned for their chance to win the grand prize as well as a considerable boost with the commercialisation of their idea.

After much deliberation, the overall winners of the award were named as Galway sisters Ailbhe and Izzy Keane for their business Izzy Wheels, which offers customised spoke guards for wheelchair users such as Izzy.

The company idea was born when Ailbhe was in her final year at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and was given a project brief to use design to enhance the life of someone living with a long-term health condition.

Having seen how frustrated Izzy – who has spina bifida – was by the very few options available to her to personalise her wheelchair, Ailbhe began designing creative spoke guards to allow wheelchair users to express themselves and feel empowered.

“There are 40,000 wheelchair users in Ireland and 640,000 in the UK. Until now, wheelchair users have been made feel ashamed or even embarrassed of their ugly equipment,” said Izzy Wheels.

“Winning this competition will allow us to further break down the stigmas surrounding wheelchair use and allow more users to express themselves. Our tagline is: ‘If you can’t stand up, stand out!’”

There is much to celebrate, as the sisters’ business has received a cash prize of €5,000 and a space on the NDRC LaunchPad programme, a three-month accelerator for digital start-up ventures.

More female entrepreneurs

Since February, the eight finalists have been mentored and supported through a series of development days before competing in the final pitch presentation, which took place in front of a judging panel comprising Ireland’s leading industry and business representatives.

Alastair Blair, country managing director of Accenture Ireland, said: “This year, we made it a priority to support more female entrepreneurs to enter and I’m delighted to say that 48pc of applicants were women, a massive increase from 10pc three years ago.

“Izzy and Ailbhe are incredibly talented entrepreneurs who spotted an opportunity and made it a reality. Their products are cool, creative and designed to enhance the lives of wheelchair users. I wish them every success in the future.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic