This Irish startup became the first Irish company to feature on Instagram’s live news feed. A little piece of history it can be proud of. ThinkBusiness spoke with founder Ailbhe Keane about her journey so far.
How did you come up with the name for your business?
I named the brand Izzy Wheels after my inspiration, my little sister Izzy. We chose the tagline ‘If you can’t stand up, stand out.’ We believe our tagline perfectly represents what we do.
What is Izzy Wheel’s biggest achievement to date?
We were approached by INSIDER art a few weeks ago and they made a video about us. The video received two million views in the first 24 hours and 11 million views in one week. As a result, most of our sales are now coming from the USA.
What’s the most important thing you have learnt so far in business?
How to balance your time wisely has been the biggest lesson for me so far. As a founder you are constantly on the go. It’s so important to take a step back from everything and make some time for yourself.
Izzy Wheels was developed from a college project. How did this help you when you developed the company?
I came up with Izzy Wheels when I was in my final year of visual communications in the National College of Art and Design. I was inspired by a brief which asked you to empower the lives of people living with a long term lifestyle related health condition. Immediately, I thought of my sister Izzy.
“I had always wanted to create something that allowed my sister to personalise her wheelchair, so that it could reflect her personality.”
Izzy was born with spina bifida and is paralysed from her waist down. I had always wanted to create something that allowed my sister to personalise her wheelchair, so that it could reflect her personality.
I spent a full year exploring, brainstorming, prototyping and coming up with different creative solutions to transform my sister’s wheelchair. Having studied visual communications in college, I had gained the necessary skills to design and build my own brand. I was also very lucky to be surrounded by some of the best designers in the country, as both classmates and tutors. In art college, you grow very accustomed to being able to stand up in front of a group of people and talk about your work. I didn’t realise at the time but those skills proved very useful, especially now when we pitch at competitions and conferences.
Izzy Wheels not only has a business focus but also has a social focus. How has this shaped the development of the business?
Izzy Wheels naturally has a very strong social focus. We try to be involved with the Irish disability organisations as much as we can. We have run wheel design workshops in the Central Remedial Clinic where children had the opportunity to design their own wheels.
“We are building a fashion brand for one of the worlds most underserved communities of people.”
Last Christmas, we had our first designer collaboration collection. We got nine Irish artists to design an Izzy Wheel for ‘Roll Models’, a wheelchair fashion show with the Irish Wheelchair Association. All donations made from of the sales went to the disability charity.
The collection was a big success so we decided to create a second collaboration collection, but this time we asked famous international designers from countries around the world. For this collection, we decided to donate to spina bifida Hydrocephalus Ireland, an amazing charity which helps give independence to wheelchair users across the country. The summer collection attracted the attention of some of the world’s biggest names including TechCrunch, INSIDER, Adobe, The San Fransisco Giants baseball team, NowThis and Instagram.
What are your expansion plans in the future?
We have big plans to add other stylish accessories to our collection. Spoke guards are just the beginning for us. We want users to have matching bags, umbrellas and other products to match their wheels. We are building a fashion brand for one of the worlds most underserved communities of people.
“As soon as I finished college, I joined Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers entrepreneur development program. It was the perfect transition for transforming a college project into a business.”
What is the best advice you have for someone wanting to start their own business while still in college?
While I was still in college, I did a lot of freelance design work on the side. This was great for pocket money but it also helped me build communication skills, and I learned how to deal with clients. I did design internships during the summer months of college in startups which proved very useful too, because I learned how fast you must work in the real world. As soon as I finished college, I joined Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers entrepreneur development program. It was the perfect transition for transforming a college project into a business.
“They told us how inspired they were by our mission and asked us if we would be interested in being their story for 24 hours. They have 224 million followers.”
How did the Instagram feed take over come about? What impact has it has on your brand?
After our video went viral on INSIDER art, we received an email later that week from the Instagram head office. They told us how inspired they were by our mission and asked us if we would be interested in being their story for 24 hours (they have 224 million followers). Izzy and I spent a full day filming around Dublin and we sent them over the content. As soon as it went live, things went bananas and we gained 11,000 new Instagram followers from around the world overnight.
Are there any newspapers, magazines, blogs, newsletters or social media pages you read on a daily basis?
Behance and Dribbble are my favourite creative sites. I use them to search for inspiration and up and coming designers.
If you were ‘ruler for a day’ what would you do to change the business or social climate in this country?
I would make everyone spend a day in a wheelchair.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Izzy Wheels, you can visit the website here.