‘Angel’ investor seeks entrepreneurs to transform life for disabled people

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Disabled entrepreneurs with technology-based business ideas that could transform life for other disabled people have a chance to secure up to £100,000 of funding through an “angel” investment programme.

Entrepreneur and investor Rohan Silva, a former senior policy adviser to Conservative prime minister David Cameron, is one of 12 successful entrepreneurs who have each been handed £100,000 by technology investment fund Atomico to invest in early-stage technology companies.

After discussions with disabled journalist Steve O’Hear, Silva decided to invest all the money he has been given in one or two technology start-ups with the potential to improve the lives of disabled people.

Silva (pictured, left), co-founder of Second Home, a social business that supports job creation and entrepreneurship, is particularly keen to see ideas from tech start-ups founded or co-founded by disabled people*.

O’Hear (right), a technology and business journalist who reports on tech start-ups for the website TechCrunch, will act as a volunteer “sounding board” for Silva.

He said that Silva’s idea to focus on disability “had come partly from conversations he and I have had in the past around the lack of diversity in the tech industry, including disability, and the stink I’d made with regards to [chancellor]Philip Hammond’s idiotic comments attempting to link the UK’s low productivity with high rates of employment of disabled people”.

He said: “I immediately thought that angel investing in disabled entrepreneurs was a good idea but told him that if he wanted to have more impact he should also consider businesses that explicitly target the disabled consumer, since disabled people are being ripped off on a whole range of products or services.”

The start-ups could, for example, offer a mobile app, other types of software, a tech-enabled service or new types of hardware.

O’Hear said: “My investment thesis was that unlike other sectors, tech hasn’t yet delivered the same level of service, convenience and innovation to the disabled consumer that we see more generally, and that there are many disability markets ripe for disruption.”

He added: “From insurance, financing, travel and accommodation, to specialist products such as wheelchair accessories, disabled clothing and fashion, or mobility devices, there are countless disability markets which feel dominated by legacy players that don’t utilise tech very well or are outright monopolies or predatory in nature.

“Depending on how big the market is for any one product or service, broadly speaking this is exactly the type of opportunity smart investors look for.” 

He said that many disabled people have the “instincts, aptitude and life experience to make great entrepreneurs” because they are often “driven by having something to prove”.

And he said he was particularly interested in businesses that would help disabled people “level up” in their personal or work lives, by saving money, using their time more efficiently, or achieving greater independence and autonomy.

He said: “So much of my time and money is wasted on being disabled, which, when you think about it, is a collective waste of society’s resources.

“Disabled people have so much to contribute as a whole, both in spending power and through what we are capable of achieving via individual endeavours, but this is being siphoned off by companies delivering poor consumer experiences whilst ripping off the disabled consumer wholesale.”

O’Hear said there are usually huge mark-ups on products that target disabled consumers, who can expect to pay up to 10 times the price, “with no direct correlation to the cost of providing those products or services”.

He said he wanted to see applications for funding from start-ups that want to fix some of these “broken markets”, in areas such as disability insurance or personalised wheelchair accessories.

He said: “I recently bought a new adapted vehicle and had to find new car insurance and the experience took me back to 2003, which was the last time I bought a car.

“Literally nothing had changed and it felt incredibly uncompetitive and lacking in choice.”

*To submit a pitch deck – a power-point presentation describing the business idea and plan – to Rohan Silva, email him at [email protected]

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