Ailbhe and Izzy Keane have been crowned winners of the 2017 Accenture Leaders of Tomorrow competition, following a final pitch at The Dock, Accenture’s innovation and incubation hub. Through their company, Izzy Wheels, the Galway sisters are on a mission to break down negative stigmas associated with wheelchairs and prove to the world that a wheelchair can be a work of art. Ailbhe is the Founder and Creative Director of the company, while Izzy acts as the Brand Ambassador.

The Accenture Leaders of Tomorrow programme (LOT), now in its 10th year, is designed to nurture and develop innovative ideas which may positively impact some of the challenges facing Ireland today. The competition asks students and graduates to pitch an idea or product, which is developed into a viable business plan over the course of the programme. The prize includes a €5,000 cash injection to the winner’s start-up, a highly-coveted place on the National Digital Research Centre LaunchPad, and a tour of one of Accenture’s Global Innovation Centres.

The winning company, Izzy Wheels, provides a range of waterproof, durable and creative spoke guards that can easily be fit onto any manual wheelchair, available through their online store at Izzy, as a wheelchair user, can identify what is needed to improve the chair. Ailbhe, as a designer, can address these needs and add her creative flair.

Izzy Wheels 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 was by the very few options available for her to personalise her wheelchair, Ailbhe began designing creative spoke guards to allow wheelchair users to express themselves and feel empowered.

Commenting on the win, Ailbhe and Izzy said: “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. 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!”

Eight finalists were selected to take part in the LOT programme and were 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 comprised of Ireland’s leading industry and business representatives.

Alastair Blair, Country Managing Director at Accenture Ireland and member of the 2017 judge panel said: “The quality of the entries from this year’s competition has been nothing short of outstanding. This year, we made it a priority to support more female entrepreneurs to enter and I’m delighted to say that 48 percent of applicants were women, a massive increase from 10 per cent 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.”

The judging panel for this year’s programme was comprised of Alastair Blair, Accenture Ireland Country Managing Director; Alan Coleman, Founder and CEO of Brite:Bill; Liam Kavanagh, Managing Director of Irish Times; Pat O’Doherty, CEO of ESB, Eithne Harley, Director of Marketing at Accenture Ireland; Gary Leyden, Commercial Director at NDRC; Hilary O’Meara, Managing Director at Accenture Ireland and Deirdre Smith, Redefine Consulting and Former CEO Zandar Technologies.

The LOT competition is open to all students across Europe as well as those who have graduated in the last year. Since the programme was set up ten years ago, it has gone from around 30 applicants in its first year to a record 240 this year. In 2017, following a dedicated female entrepreneur programme led by Accenture, 48 per cent of applicants were women, increasing from 10 per cent three years ago.

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