07 June 2007

Sheffield alumnus develops innovative handcycle

Photo: Graham riding the handcycle

A University of Sheffield graduate is changing the way that people with disabilities experience sports and recreation, by developing a series of products to make activities like cycling and skiing accessible to all.

Graham Butler, 26, who studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Sheffield, is a disabled entrepreneur whose company, Intrepid Equipment, is expanding and developing new technologies in the field of adaptive sports and recreation, through creative design and engineering.

The company’s initial products include a new version of the handcycle which opens up the world of cycling paths, cross-town or cross-country treks to people of all levels of ability, and a Nordic sit-ski, which allows sit down skiers to experience the world of backcountry skiing.

Born with a rare spinal disability that affects his mobility, Graham is all too aware of the need for more equipment to help himself and others enjoy the health benefits of exercise. His first product design came from his love of handcycling and his desire to design an updated version.

He felt innovation in the industry had become stagnant, and he saw the potential to create a better product at a more affordable price and to consequently expand the market. His engineering and design skills, gained at Sheffield and through subsequent employment as a product design consultant, enabled him to quickly see that a little bit of engineering could go a long way to making the cycles more enjoyable to use and easier to transport.

Despite obstacles, Graham capitalised on the Internet as a means to reach potential customers and his company, Intrepid Equipment, which he officially launched in 2006, is now competing successfully in the handcycle market.

Graham is extremely grateful to the University for giving him the foundations to start up his business and explains that the entrepreneurial spirit of the University’s Faculty of Engineering was a major influence.

He said, “My engineering education at the University of Sheffield gave me a solid foundation to tackle the most technically demanding design challenges, and the Faculty’s enthusiasm for engineering, business and entrepreneurship gave me not only the skills but also the confidence to pursue my goal of starting my own company. The Faculty mentors that I met during my time at Sheffield continue to provide support, encouragement and advice even though I have long since graduated.”

He added, “By providing more people with handcycles and other alternative sporting equipment I hope to allow persons with all levels of ability to interact as equals and athletes, and in that way change some of the social preconceptions and misconceptions about ability and disability.”