Nottinghamshire-based company Loopwheels, applied for grants through Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, to develop their products. Co-founder and managing director Gemma Pearce tells us about her business.
“We are a design and manufacturing business from Newark in Nottinghamshire. We make Loopwheels, which help make life better and more comfortable for wheelchair users.
Our wheels replace traditional spokes with a new design that integrates suspension into the wheel, which makes for a smoother ride over uneven surfaces.
Loopwheels reduce vibration by up to 70 per cent compared to a spoked wheel, so the amount of vibration transferred into the person in the chair is significantly reduced.
There is a lot of research to show that ‘whole body vibration’ is associated with fatigue and lower back pain, increased spasticity (muscle contraction), and an increase in pressure sores and has an impact on bladder control.
After he came up with the design, my husband Sam and I realised it was a risky venture and we would need to prove it worked and manufacture it ourselves to get it to market.
We approached Innovate UK in 2013 for a grant. Their competitions were tailored exactly to our need for help with development and testing of prototypes. I saw the competition advertised online and just followed the guidance to apply.
We won a £24,000 grant to help us create the Loopwheel for wheelchairs.
Four years later, we applied for further funding through a second competition. I attended an information meeting held by Innovate UK to help companies know what they were looking for in a good application.
We received a further £211,000 grant, which allowed us to work with two companies, Strategic Simulation and Analysis (SSA) and Composite Braiding, to further develop the loopwheel so it could go faster and to allow it to be used off road and on rough terrain.
Getting support from Innovate UK was crucial to us. We should have applied for Research & Development (R&D) support earlier, as it would have helped us to get a lot further, a lot faster. The second grant has allowed us to create a world class product and manufacture it more efficiently.
I would say that it’s quite a lot of work, but the rewards are worth it. We would never have been able to develop such an innovative product without this support.
We now have six employees and are making 100 wheels a month. Sales are growing 50 per cent year on year and we have distributors across the world, including in mainland Europe, Australia, Japan, and Brazil.
Around one per cent of the population in the developed world uses a wheelchair. We have hardly scratched the surface of that market yet. People in wheelchairs are living longer and healthier lives, they are more active at home and in the workplace, and some are using electric motors. There is a real need for Loopwheels.
We’re growing rapidly now. We’ve got good distributors in important export markets. We plan to expand into our current market and to look at taking our technology into other areas. This could be for use in other vehicles including for lightweight electric vehicles in our congested cities.
The Loopwheels team in Nottinghamshire.