Spencer Hassel, Steve Holyer and Helen Holyer are the proud founders and owners of ADi Access. The business, founded in 2015 in Truro, Cornwall, designs and makes audio equipment which allows blind and visually impaired people to use public equipment.
It is estimated that 60 people around the world lose their sight every five minutes. Currently public facilities such as toilets are rarely kitted out to help to the visually impaired. ADi Access audio units provide audio descriptions that are unique to the room they are put in, and verbally guide people in these rooms.
Prior to starting the business, Spencer worked on a European-funded programme that helped people to start businesses. When undertaking one of these courses, Spencer met Helen Hoyer who was to become his future business partner. She was working to help people who were visually impaired.
Helen was attending the course with the aim of starting up her own business and had an idea for audio equipment for the visually impaired. Spencer was inspired by Helen’s idea and was moved to hear about her partner Steve who had been forced to retire early because of failing eyesight which has now deteriorated to the point where he can only see light and dark. Spencer saw how important this product was and wanted to help Helen and Steve to set it up with his extensive experience in the world of business.
Theirs is a match well made: Spencer has the business experience, Helen has background in helping visually impaired people and Steve has firsthand experience of being visually impaired, as well as some research experience. Together their goal is to develop and manufacture products that enable blind and visually impaired people across the globe to live their lives with dignity and independence.
Business has been going very well for the trio. They have built more than 120 of their audio-equipment units for use in toilets and have had them installed in various notable locations such as the House of Commons (as featured on Radio 4) and the Eden Project.
Recognition of the business is growing, with ADi Access receiving prestigious awards. This recognition is giving them greater credibility, and with this they are putting greater pressure on industries, institutions and governments to improve provision for the visually impaired. For example, Exeter and Plymouth University have recently started doing more for visually impaired people and Jaime Oliver has just ordered ADi Access for one of his restaurants.
There are many challenges involved in setting up a business in this field. One of the main problems the company faces is indifference to the issues that visually impaired people suffer. There is also a lack of knowledge as to how many people suffer from visual impairment. As Spencer explained, in the Borough of Westminster alone there are 19,000 residents who are visually impaired. However things are changing as ADi Access increases in credibility and influence over policy makers.
As institutions are put under under greater pressure to do more for visually impaired people, ADi Access is in a perfect position to help them achieve this. Organisations in need of help range from major airports to football clubs. Furthermore, ADi Access is currently in talks with the Workman Group (a well-established office facilities company) to install equipment in their workplaces.
ADi Access has also begun marketing the product globally and has been in conversation with the South African Council of the Blind and Australia For All. The business is currently waiting on a European Patent and, with this, it will be able to sell the products in North America and Asia.
Spencer has been very pleased with his Start Up Loans experience, he says: “The initial contact and conversations were very simple. Start Up Loans have had a very big part in what we’ve done. Without them we wouldn’t be at this stage of our business. The support and the mentoring have been very useful”.