20 Award Winning Irish entrepreneurs who have a disability

It’s 2021’s International People’s With Disabilities Day. According to the 2016 census there are 643,131 people in Ireland diagoised with a disability. That doesn’t include conditions such as neurodiversity where people can go undiagonised well into adulthood. It’s often said “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it”, so far aspiring

  1. Fionn Crombie Angus – Fionnathan

Why can’t a person with Down Syndrome become a CEO?” That’s the question that Fionn and his dad Jonthan asked when they were considering what career Fionn would move into. Now a Social Enterprise, Fionnathan Productions is a production company specialising in media, education and the arts. Having interviewed over 600 people, been a guest lecture at more than 30 colleges and having their exhibitions in galleries throughout Ireland, the UK and New York, and being an expert fiddle player, Fionn and his father Jonathan created Fionnathan Productions to promote Diversity and Inclusion by showing that someone with Down Syndrome can be successful at running their own business.

  1. Thomas Barry – thomp2.com

From an early age Thomas was determined that he could get a job and contribute to his household. His parents knew that with having Down Syndrome and a number of other positions the reality of Thomas getting and keeping a job would be extremely difficult. The family then thought of the idea of Thomas creating his own business. Thomas had always been obsessed with socks, so his dad Finbar thought of the idea of Thomas creating his own socks company. Thus Thomp2 was created. Featuring a range of funky and colourful socks their tagline is “Love Through Socks”. Their socks support Downs Syndrome Ireland and Autism awareness and they pledged to give 5% of any profits to the St. John of Gods. In 2021, they also launched ‘’Mental Health Socks’ available. For every pair of ‘It’s Okay Not To Be Okay’ socks purchased, €2 will be donated to Pieta House.

  1. Rosaleen Blair – Alexander Mann 

Growing up in Dublin (next door to Bono), Rosaleen was diagnosed when she was in fourth year of school. Having never gone to third level she emigrated to London, after finishing the Leaving Cert. She states “this actually turned out to be an advantage, it forced me to figure out ways to compensate for my dyslexia, to work around barriers and to keep pushing in order to accomplish what I needed to do”. Having been given a start in advertising she then turned to talent acquisition, opening her own company Alexander Mann in 1996. Today the company itself has grown to over 3,000 employees in 80 different countries. In 2020, Rosaleen sold her business for $1.1 billion.

  1. Nikki Bradley – The Motivation Factory

As she says on her website “diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer at sixteen and the receiver of a second hip replacement at the age of twenty-six, I have been on a truly unique journey.“ In 2013, after being told she would remain on crutches permanently, Nikki set up a fitness-based awareness campaign called Fighting Fit for Ewing’s, where she regularly partakes in physical challenges to highlight the importance of exercise for rehabilitation. One of these challenges resulted in her becoming the first person to scale all four of Ireland’s highest mountain peaks on crutches, completing the challenge in 32 hours.

  1. Sinead Burke – Tilting The Lens

Teacher, designer, podcaster, entrepreneur, author, Sinead Burke has broken down barriers wherever she puts her talents to use. Sinead has achondroplasia (being a little person), and started her own blog in her teens to speak about her experience, buying clothes and expressing her frustrations at the fashion industry not accommodating her needs. Sinead is now the ambassador for UK Vogue, having been asked to be on the cover by guest editor Megan Merkil. Recently Sinead launched her book entitled “Breaking The Mould.” In 2019 she was the first little person to be invited to The Met Gala and in 2021 Sinead launched her own business Tilting the Lens, a consultancy-based company advising clients on accessibility and inclusion.

  1. Caroline Casey – The Valuable 500

Caroline was born with ocular albinism and is Legally Blind. Aged 28, Caroline left her job in Accenture to launch the Aisling Foundation, with an aim to improve how disability is treated. In 2001, she trekked across India, solo, raising €250k for The National Council for the Visually Impaired of Ireland and Sightsavers, becoming the first Western female Mahout in India. The journey was turned into a documentary and a TED Talk. In 2005 Caroline created O2 Ability Awards and set up the ‘Kanchi Foundation’ in 2005 to recognise organisations that promote disability inclusion. In 2008 the foundation was renamed ‘Kanchi’ which was the name in honour of the elephant used on the Indian expedition. In 2017 she launched a campaign called The Valuable 500. The campaign is asking businesses to put people with disabilities on their boardroom agendas. It’s also seeking to identify the next high-profile business leaders who will lead the charge for the one billion people living with disabilities worldwide. 

  1. Stephen Cluskey and Noelle Daly –  Mobility Mojo

Stephen is a serial entrepreneur having founded businesses aimed at improving the accessibility of travel for people in wheelchairs. Noelle was co-founder spinal injuries Ireland and twenty years experience working with people with disabilities. The two founded Mobility Mojo. It is now an award-winning platform that helps hotels to show all the accessibility features they offer and embed them into their website. Mobility Mojo is the world’s first globalised standard for accessibility and has a mission to open the world to everyone.

  1. Peter Foley – Lets Get Checked

Peter was inspired to open his company because of his own history with cancer. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer when he was 16 after getting a knock in a rugby game and being rushed to the emergency room. He went through several expensive tests and months of hospital appointments, Peter was eventually diagnosed several months later and went through chemotherapy, then completed his Leaving Cert, and went to college. He started Lets Get Checked in 2015 in an effort to democratise the health care system and allow the general public to order certain medical tests at an affordable price. Lets Get Checked is now valued at €100m they have more than 200 staff and is one of the most impressive Irish startups in recent years.

  1. Sinead Kane – The Kane Ability

With 5% vision since birth, Sinéad Kane is now a qualified solicitor, with two PHD’s  in law, an ultra Marathon runner, world record holder and keynote speaker. Sinead along with her guide John O’Regan completed the 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days challenge, being the first visually impaired person to do so in the world. Sinead also has two world records in distance running for running 130KM in 12 hours on a treadmill and for her PHD’s she attended The National University of Ireland and DCU, as well as speaking at conferences throughout the world.

  1. Izzy Keane – Izzy Wheels

Founded by sisters Ailbhe and Izzy Keane, Izzy Wheels transforms wheelchairs from a medical device into a piece of fashion and self-expression. The brand was started by Ailbhe as her final year college project when she attended The National College of Art and Design (NCAD) in 2015. Aiblhe had always drawn images on her sister Izzy’s wheelchair growing up and they decided to launch the business together. Izzy Wheels has won 15 national awards and both sisters were named on Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2018. Having previously signed deals with Barbie, and Hello Kitty In 2021, Izzy Wheels announced their partnerships with Disney, allowing the spokespeople (customers) to purchase wheels with Disney characters on them, recently  the sisters were awarded the EU Prize for Women Innovators  taking home the title of Rising Innovator as part of the European Prize for Women Innovators 2021.   

  1. Claire Kennelly – Inclusive World

Having worked for more than 30 years in all levels of the Irish education sector. Now CEO of her start-up Inclusive World, Claire Kennelly noticed one of the most common problems is that although there are supports in place for students with disabilities to get into the workforce, there is an issue when these students try to get employment, due to the lack of inclusivity in the private sector particularly. Claire then set up Inclusive World to bridge the employment gap between the education and private sector by showing the private sector the inclusive tools they can implement that will make their workforce more diverse.

  1. The King Family – Adam King Adventures

In 2020, seven year old Adam King became one of the stars of The Late Late Toy Show with his “virtual hug”. The space-mad seven year old has a brittle bone condition and appeared on the show where he spoke about his time in Temple Street Children’s Hospital, and met his hero, porter, John Doyle who works in the hospital. The moment was named as “the best moment of 2020”. Adam also helped to launch The Toy Show Appeal which went on to raise €6.6 million. Adam designed his own “Virtual Hug” and “Barróg Duitse” cards with Irish card company Garlanna. The cards were launched as a fundraiser for CHI Ireland Templestreet, and CUH Charity Cork,  in partnership with Supervalu, Centra and Donnybrook Fair, raising over €250k to support the care of children at these hospitals. Adam’s father David King then wrote the book A Hug For You, which chronicles experiences  with Adams hug as he shared it with the world. The book recently won the An Post Irish Book Award in the The Specsavers Children’s Book of the Year (Junior) category and is nominated for over all Irish Book of the Year. 
A Christmas special aptly named “Adam Saves Christmas” will air on RTÉ Jr on Christmas Eve, with a star studded cast including Ryan Tubridy as the voice of Santa. When asked about the animation Adam said “ there are children all over the world in wheelchairs, and when they see the hero in this cartoon is a wheelchair user, they’ll see they can be heroes in their lives too”

  1. Sean Gallagher

Sean was blind from birth as a result of congenital cataracts. He later had corrective surgery which improved his sight but he has been blind for the majority of his life. Having qualified from college, he later worked with young people from the travelling community, young offenders and young people with disabilities. He was the author of the Country’s first National Alcohol Education Programme for the Irish Youth service. In 2002, Gallagher founded Smarthomes, a home technology business. With the success of the company he went on to be a self-made millionaire. Later in 2008, Sean was announced as an investor on the RTÉ One version of Dragon’s Den. He continued as an investor for three series. In 2011, he announced his candidacy for the president of Ireland, eventually finishing  second to the winner Michael D Higgins. Since then he has worked as an advocate for those with sight loss and as a columnist in The Sunday Business Post profiling an Irish start-up each week. In August of 2018 Sean announced his candidacy for the presidency of Ireland again eventually finishing in third place.

  1. Matt McCann – Access Earth

Access Earth was started by Matt McCann and Donal McClean after Matt visited London for the Paralympic Games. Matt has cerebral palsy and is determined to improve the world around him through his skills and experiences, both personally and professionally. Matt requires a rollator to get a round and found that the accessibility information he needed while in London was either unreliable or simply not there. Upon returning from his visit Matt and Donal decided to start Access Earth. Since its launch the company has been involved with an incubation project with the European Space Agency and is increasing its efforts to be a global app with interested users in Philadelphia, America and throughout Australia. In 2018 Matt was included on The Irish independent 30 under 30 .

15 Jeanne McDonagh – CEO of Open Doors Initiative

The Open Doors Initiative, which works with a large number of companies and NGOs to help marginalised people such as refugees and asylum seekers, people with disabilities and youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, find employment.

Prior to this, she was Head of Society and Engagement at Diageo, worked in communications and strategy for Our Lady’s Hospice, was campaign manager for Stephen Donnelly TD in the 2016 election, Communications Co-ordinator for Yes Equality (the Marriage Campaign) and Head of Communications for the Bar Council of Ireland.  She also worked for two years in the US Embassy as a Press Officer

She was previously a board member of HIV Ireland, Pride and the Community Law and Mediation Service. She is on the Advisory Panel for the HIV and AIDS Monument.

She has Dysphoric Elation, a form of bipolar and uses this to inform her work through lived experience.

She has won numerous awards for her work.

16. Mark Pollock – The Mark Pollock Trust

Mark lost the sight in his right eye when he was five years old. Mark was about to qualify from college and take up a position in a bank in London, when, without warning Mark suddenly went totally blind in both eyes. Having started The Mark Pollack Trust with a mission to empower people with “cure paralysis in our lifetime” Mark continued to push himself to the limit of his physical disability. He raised thousands for the charity Sightsavers by crossing the Gobi Desert, running six marathons in seven days. In 2010, Mark fell from a window of his friend’s house. He broke his back and was left paralysed. Continuing his sporting challenges, Mark was awarded an honorary degree awarded by Trinity College Dublin, and has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Queen’s University Belfast and The Royal College of Surgeons. In 2012, Mark was honoured with a Rehab People of the Year Award and has been invited to speak at the prestigious Ted Talk and has set up his own trust.

17. Sean O’Mahony – The Autistic Baker

Many of us discovered (or rediscovered) a love of baking during lockdown in 2020. One of these people is Sean O’Mahony. Sean is a person with autism who started baking during lockdown and discovered a real passion for it. With help from the Rainbow Academy in Cork. Once restrictions were reduced Sean started as a trainee baker in the academy’s cafe. He then started his own business in the cafe called The Autistic Baker. Recently in 2021 Sean was awarded The Enterprising Teen Award at The 2021 Garda Youth Awards.

18. Nathan Kirwan – Chariot Clothing

In 2013 Nathan fell from a 25 ft height and was left paralysed from the chest down. He was told would be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. While adjusting to his new life Nathan became frustrated with the clothing he used to wear. Speaking to Echolive Nathan said “The clothes I once wore just did not fit right or were difficult to get on”. Items like pockets of jeans being inaccessible led Nathan and his sister Aisling to produce their own range of clothing specifically made for people in wheelchairs. The siblings were recently featured on The Late Late Show’s Taking Care of Business where Aisling said “Much of our clothing contains organic cotton, regenerated cotton & recycled polyester and our packaging is also 100% biodegradable,” said Aisling.

  1. Molly Ryan – Cards by Molly

Two of Molly’s favourite things were being creative and caring for her dog – a Cairn Terrier called Toto. So she decided to combine the two and started to create cards for dog lovers. What started off as a hobby is now a small but growing business and with help from her sister Catriona, the Tipperary Local Enterprise Office and their graphic design agency, Cards by Molly’s is now live, with their purpose being “celebrating ability and a love of dogs”. As the say on their website ” Molly is involved in all aspects of the business, she loves folding, packing and sorting the cards, writing notes to customers, going to the post office and checking her social media reports”. In addition, Molly now has a range of cards celebrating Down Syndrome

Molly’s favourite affirmation is “Wake up every morning and tell yourself I can do this” and you can see how she does this, through her:

– Instagram @mollymadra21

– Website: cardsbymollymadra21.ie

  1. Derek Walker – Natnoo

Derek has a degenerative eye condition that has led to loss of eyesight. He was registered blind and this also affected his education. Having found it difficult to keep a job, Derek had periods of unemployment. He started drinking wheatgrass and found the process of making the drink difficult.  He heard the same from others. Having availed of the back to work scheme, he started his own company, Natnoo that makes certified organic wheatgrass and produces a range of cold pressed juice products that are totally natural, chemical and additive free, with no artificial flavours or sweeteners but still bursting with flavour and nutrients. Now part of the SuperValu Food Academy and having co-founded the Off The Street Food Festival in Letterkenny,  Derek is now making enough to support himself and his wife Anna

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