Carbon Black, the Ferrari of wheelchairs, has just hit the UK market. This milestone has been achieved with vital investment from the Scottish Investment Bank and Highland Venture Capital, as well as support from Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Now the company has its sights on international markets.
The Nairn-based company initially received funding to prove technical feasibility and to take the product to market and has now been offered further funding and support to sell its wheelchair internationally.
Founder and director Andrew Slorance has been using a wheelchair since he broke his back in 1983 at the age of 14. He always thought wheelchairs were ugly and functional, and harboured a desire to create something that better reflected his personality and individuality. Despite a successful TV career, Andrew pursued his vision of designing something stylish, eye catching and desirable, as well as practical.
Having hit on the concept of using carbon fibre – the same material used to create the bodies for ultra-light and streamlined Formula 1 cars – Andrew started the process of attracting the necessary funding to turn his concept into a reality.
Andrew Slorance said: “The day I was paralysed was one of the worst of my life. Then I saw the wheelchair I’d be using and that was almost as bad. It was such an ugly, medical device and it instantly felt like I was defined by it, as that was the first thing people saw about me.
“I wanted a chair that was highly designed, cool and aesthetically pleasing, but still light, manoeuvrable and easy to use. Over the years I thought wheelchair design would evolve like I was seeing with bicycles but it never did, so I knew I’d have to do it myself. It’s taken seven years of development and we’re finally making our first sales now.”
Following an initial SMART: SCOTLAND grant for product development, the Scottish Investment Bank provided a much needed injection of capital. Alongside investment partners Highland Venture Capital, SIB has invested £280,000 into the company through its Scottish Co-Investment Fund to accelerate commercialisation of the product.
“We wouldn’t be where we are without the support of SIB. As a new start up, it isn’t easy to ask people for half a million pounds but the faith shown in me by SIB and Highland Venture Capital meant that process was a lot more straightforward.”
Carbon Black has undertaken an intensive marketing campaign to successfully launch the product in the UK and has invested heavily in its website. Now Andrew has set his sights on the overseas market.
“Our ambition is to start selling internationally. We’ve gained a foothold in the UK but other companies haven’t responded and the world is there for the taking.
“In five years I’d like Carbon Black to be recognised as the best wheelchair in the world and available in any country around the globe.”
Carbon Black has continued its relationship with both SIB and HIE. Scottish Development International has also helped the company to navigate overseas markets through its Export Explorer programme.
Catriona McCracken, Investment Manager at SIB, who worked on the funding package said: “Carbon Black may be a small company based in the Highlands, but it has big ambitions and boasts a product that’s unlike anything else in the world.
“It’s been a long journey for Andrew but it’s been tremendously satisfying to have played a part in helping him build his team and now start to roll the Carbon Black wheelchair out to the wider market.”
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