Dragons scrap over stake in wheelAIR business

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The founder of a wheelchair cooling solution successfully endured the heat of the Dragons’ Den panel in last night’s episode of the hit BBC show where she was in search of a £75,000 investment in her business.

Corien Staels, boss of recently launched wheelAIR, was seeking cash for 15% of her business in a dramatic episode which saw her nearly faint under the pressure of a grilling on financial figures from Peter Jones.

But in what initially seemed a fast-deflating pitch Staels soon found herself in the driving seat with the Dragons squabbling among themselves for a stake in the wheelAIR business.

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Impressed by the battery-powered wheelchair cushion, Jones said: “I feel that there is a real, huge opportunity for your product to enter the market and you can see how it’s potentially life changing.”

Staels eventually emerged from the den triumphantly having negotiated a joint deal with Jones and Deborah Meaden which saw the two Dragons gain 15% each for the £75,000 Staels was hoping for. The deal will see the Dragons’ percentage decreased if they receive pay back on their investments.

A slick opening pitch where Staels outlined wheelAIR’s ambitions of capturing £45m in the UK market alone quickly unravelled when the Dragons began questioning the mobility boss on the price point of the device, which businessman Touker Suleyman said could limit its mass market appeal.

Jones then turned up the heat quizzing Staels in detail on her financial forecast, which she admitted she should have read up on. On estimating a three year turnover forecast of around £2.5m Staels struggled to gather the numbers Jones demanded, after which she sat down fearing she was about to pass out.

Between them, textile specialist Suleyman and healthcare businessman Tej Lalvani offered the full £75,000 for 20% of the company each, before being undercut by an offer from Jones.

Deborah Meaden matched Jones’ offer saying: “A very close member of my family is in a wheelchair. As a result of my sister’s problems I’ve actually been involved in a project designing a wheelchair. I would have made you an offer in any event but Peter and I work very well together. I’m going to make you an offer, it will be for half of the money, it will be for 15% and it will be to match Peter’s offer.”

A quarrel among the Dragons quickly ensued with Suleyman and Lalvani reducing their percentages to match Jones and Meaden. With offers from four business gurus Staels decided to take up a deal with Jones and Meaden.

Staels described the encounter as “one of my most stressful experiences ever” and said “it’s like they’re trying to break you”.

But since the episode was filmed in June Staels has gone on to secure multiple rounds of investment and business awards for her wheelchair solution.

In June the company launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to secure £30,000 of funding but smashed its target by £70,000 just weeks later after winning a business grant.

Since then wheelAIR has won multiple awards and cash prizes which it is using to upscale manufacturing and bring itself onto the mainstream market.

The battery-powered airflow backrest cushion uses inbuilt fan technology to not only cool the back, but reduce users’ core temperature by taking away excess heat and moisture. This allows for instant comfort and a reduced risk of hyperthermia. The wheelAIR cushion also offers extra support through a unique blend of carefully selected foams. It is available in four widths to fit all active lightweight rigid and folding wheelchairs with a canvas backrest.

Corien Staels has since released a statement on social media reading: “Thanks so much everyone for the positive feedback, love and enthusiasm. As you could tell it was a very intense day! Receiving an offer from 4 Dragons was beyond my wildest expectations and an important moment for the business. I don’t think I’ll ever watch anything funnier again than seeing myself wheeled out in our @wheelAIR #wheelchair eating a banana.

“Being up since 4.30am took its toll, but I have been eating breakfast ever since. To those concerned, I didn’t actually become faint immediately after those numbers, that was just some good editing.

“The @BBCDragonsDen episode was filmed 6 months ago and the business has changed, but the product’s quality has never been higher.

“We now operate with a distributor and dealer model, bringing the #wheelAIR to shops near you. It surely is an experience I’ll never forget. The Dragons and I were locked in debate for several hours… and discussing the business with them was nothing but a joy. We won several awards in the weeks following the filming allowing us to postpone investment.”

Tags : corien staelsdeborah meadendragons denpeter joneswheelair
Joe Peskett

The author Joe Peskett

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