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 Keeping you connected in healthcare

Issue 21 • November/December 2017

The wheelAIR has landed The launch of Staels Designs’ revolutionary product


Stocking Fillers

Work Smart

A round up of REHACARE and Trade Days 2017

Take advantage of the season of impulse and gift buying

Maximise your business with productive time management tips

Breath of fresh air Following much industry anticipation, the wheelAIR has finally landed. We get the inside track from Corien Staels, director and founder of Staels Design, and the creative mind behind this revolutionary product. è


heelchairs can be uncomfortable, warm places to sit for extended periods of time, especially in hot weather, or while exercising. This is something Corien Staels, director and founder of Staels Design, hopes to tackle with her revolutionary new wheelchair cushion, the wheelAIR. The idea to create the wheelAIR came while Corien was at university in Amsterdam, where she became friends with one of her lecturers, who was a wheelchair user. “She ended up being the supervisor for my dissertation,” said Corien, “and as we were brainstorming the issues of the wheelchair user, she told me, ‘well, a lot of people have overheating issues, why don’t you try and solve that?’” It was this question which took Corien on a journey across the Netherlands, speaking to Paralympians and wheelchair users, where she discovered how much of an issue regulating body temperature can be. Seeing wheelchair users having to spray themselves down with hoses, or wearing ice packs to cool down, Corien knew there must be a simpler way to stay cool. Out of this, the wheelAIR was born. In its current form, the wheelAIR is an ergonomic backrest with a battery-operated fan which allows the user to regulate their body temperature with ease. It works by taking in air at the base and evenly dispersing it over the back to create a gentle sense of cooling. It’s especially useful for those with spinal injuries, which prevents them from sweating below their injury and makes extreme temperatures or extended periods of physical activity quite dangerous. The wheelAir can be attached to almost any manual wheelchair on which the back rest can be removed. Corien created the first prototype of the wheelAIR with a company in Belgium with whom she was already familiar, based on a bulky car battery. When she finally came to Scotland, Corien had to redesign the wheelAIR. With her background in textiles, Corien had little knowledge of how to create the integral inner workings of the wheelAIR.

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Benefits • Cools the back and core within seconds • Reduces heat and moisture build-up • Offers extra lateral support • User-friendly and rain proof • Indicates battery level But a more serious issue remained – how was she going to pay for all of this?

• Easy to attach and detach with velcro

The decision was made to crowdfund the project through Kickstarter. For Corien, it acted both as a means to raise money, and to bring attention to the project. As her market research had uncovered, crowdfunding disability products was rarely met with success, but she was happy to risk this if it meant more people would become aware of the wheelAIR. A goal of £30,000 was set, and on 1 June, Staels Design launched the campaign.

• Made to fit all active lightweight wheelchairs

“I think we learned a lot from it,” Corien said. “We did a lot of analysis beforehand on how disability products did on Kickstarter platforms and generally they reach very low amounts, more like in the region of £10,000. It was quite an expensive product to put on there. But I feel it was a very positive experience.” While they managed to raise only a third

In its current form, the wheelAIR is an ergonomic backrest with a batteryoperated fan, which allows the user to regulate their body temperature with ease...

of the amount they had hoped, it was still a positive experience for Corien. The Kickstarter allowed them to reach a whole new audience, all over the globe, who provided positive and encouraging feedback about the project, remarking how much they, as wheelchair users, felt the wheelAIR could change their lives. “I think, for me, it was a very good way of raising awareness” Corien said, “and even though we did not make our Kickstarter goal, we did create a lot of publicity, and had a lot of people reaching out to us for it. “It was just a way of testing the market, because we had a lot of investment

offers, but I found that it was better to do crowdfunding first, then go for an investment offer in a later stage where I could get a better valuation at that point. It was winning the Young EDGE and Scottish EDGE grants, as well as the Converge Challenge, which made a huge difference to the funding of the wheelAIR. The money from these organisations funded the project many times over the Kickstarter goal, and came at the perfect time - just as the wheelAIR was about to enter manufacture. “As I started winning competitions, I had enough money that I was able to go to different design houses, and I ended up  I 25

Tech Specs • Four cooling levels • Up to 20h battery life • Rechargeable with USB port • Machine washable at 40ºC • Weighs under 1kg • Uses viscoelastic foams and breathable, anti-bacterial fabrics which are sweat and urine resistant • Fits frames of 300mm 400mm height and available in 4 widths: 300mm, 330mm, 360mm, 390mm

choosing STEP 3D, a Glasgow-based design company. Then a couple of days a week, or once a week, I would go there, and we would try a couple of things, all different types of heating and cooling and see what worked best, and we basically started from scratch before coming back to air flow being the best one.” Design was at the forefront of Corien’s mind when creating the wheelAIR. Her aim was to create something sleek, stylish and functional, which did not prioritise saving costs in productions. While many disability products focus purely on the function of the item, it was Corien’s desire to create something sleek and stylish, which would also fulfil a purpose: “For me, a lot of designers start with the idea of, ‘how am I going to make this, and how can I make this as cheap as possible.’ I found that there are big gaps in nice looking mobility products - I feel this is changing, but still, an awful lot of products just don’t look nice enough. We don’t buy clothes just because they’re functional, we buy nice clothes. “But for wheelchair users there’s often not the option to buy something nicer. I wanted to do something that looks really stylish, which only uses the highest quality materials; I wanted it to be sustainable, and obviously I wanted it to work, so we’ve been designing it for quite a while, and went through all these designs for heating, cooling and what works best, and I came up with the current wheelAIR.” It’s obvious how important design is to Corien – the wheelAIR is attractive and discreet, focusing on an unobtrusive design, which provides additional lateral support in addition to its primary purpose - regulating the user’s temperature. Rainproof and user-

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friendly, it’s a product that’s simple to attach and detach from the wheelchair. It’s clear that the user was at the forefront during the design process. With the wheelAIR’s launch on 2 November, where will Staels Design go from here? Expanding the wheelAIR is a definite. Making the product more widely available and creating versions for more types of wheelchairs, such as powerchairs, are already in the works. Corien has a number of ideas: “I’ve got a whole product strategy on where I want to go with WheelAIR. I want to become a centrel of expertise in the wheelchair industry, so I’ve got a lot of ideas on how to get there. And I think we’re going to be growing quite rapidly this year. We have four people in the core team and I hope to expand this. “I’m a pretty global person myself, I’ve lived everywhere, we’re a pretty global brand, and there’s so many people all over the world who could benefit from it. We have a pretty international distribution model from the start, so the future is very exciting.” n

wheelAIR Ambassador Michael Kerr, double Paralympian, former team GB wheelchair rugby captain and founder of the Michael Kerr Foundation is the brand ambassador for the wheelAIR cooling backrest cushion for wheelchairs. “I am delighted to officially be the brand ambassador for wheelAIR. When I first learnt about the benefits it could have for a huge number of chair users and especially for those with spinal cord injuries, I just had to get involved. It ticks all the boxes.”

WheelAir Feature  

WheelAir - TradePoint November / December 2017

WheelAir Feature  

WheelAir - TradePoint November / December 2017