Yorkshireman Ben Wolfenden wins Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs 2014
5 November 2014
A 31-year-old Leeds-based entrepreneur who was told he wouldn’t live past 30 has won the prestigious Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs in the UK. The awards are run jointly by EasyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou's charitable foundation and Leonard Cheshire Disability.
Ben Wolfenden received a £50,000 cash prize to help grow his business, Visibilis, at a special awards ceremony in London yesterday evening.
Ben has cystic fibrosis and diabetes. With only 50% lung function, he undergoes a gruelling regime of medication and five hours of physiotherapy every day.
‘My disability has meant I’ve never been able to have a “conventional” job. I’m unable to work in a carpeted, air-conditioned or dusty environment. So instead of feeling sorry for myself I became determined to create a successful business that worked for me.’
He started digital marketing agency Visibilis in 2010 to help businesses grow online. In the process, Ben and his team have grown Visibilis itself by over 1000% in the year from 2012 to 2013, with 2014 exceeding expectations.
Ben strives to get everything out of life after sadly losing his elder sister to cystic fibrosis. He also has a five-month-old son, Max, who gives him every reason to continue to work hard and fight his disability.
‘Winning the Stelios Award is great recognition of what Visibilis has achieved over the last few years. I look forward to investing the money in developing the business, employing some key staff and purchasing an air filtration system for the office to ensure the environment is optimal for my deteriorating lungs. This will allow me to continue to do what I love and grow a thriving business.
‘I want to say a big thank you to the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation and Leonard Cheshire Disability for running these awards.’
Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou said he was impressed by the growth of Ben’s business and the way he is meeting a genuine need in the market.
‘I am passionate about encouraging entrepreneurship, and the previous winners of this award offer proof that there are many highly talented disabled entrepreneurs out there.’
Stelios also noted that, with around 50% of disabled adults out of work, ‘It is clear that there still is a long way to go. Removing the barriers disabled people face in business is essential, and I hope that the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs goes some way to highlighting their achievements.’
Our chief executive, Clare Pelham, said: ‘For many of us, whether we are disabled people or non-disabled people, work is what gives us financial independence, companionship beyond our family and an important way of making a contribution to our community.
‘Whether we make things people want to buy or provide services that people need, we rely on a very special breed of person — entrepreneurs — to provide that work. They take risks, they are brave, they are imaginative and we should cherish them.’
Minister of State for Disabled People, Mark Harper, also attended the awards ceremony.
‘As these awards show, disabled people have tremendous talents and skills. We’re banishing outdated ideas about what disabled people are capable of in society and showing that they are some of this country’s most innovative and business-minded people.’
Find out more about the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs in the UK.