Josh's Route To Self-Employment

Hi, I’m Josh Wintersgill. I’ve been living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 3 for 25 years now. Its inherent progressive muscle wastage throws constant varying challenges. Please excuse the pun but it has been keeping me on my toes ever since – in a good way!

In 2009, I left school to go to college, realising with SMA it was impossible for me to become an RAF pilot – it was a childhood dream. So, I picked a course I could make a career out of. Computers were the obvious option and I pursued a National Diploma in Software Development, obtaining the equivalent of 3 A*. This was good enough to get me into University!

The transition from home to University was interesting. Leaving home after 18 years of having your family doing your personal care, putting dinner on your plate and having to do your washing is luxury… well good job, because that is what carers are for! Although carers are not always plain sailing.

I will never forget the iconic moment my dad put me into bed at university and the door closed.

The sense of initial isolation, no university friends and not having your parents to just call on when you want something.

The following morning, I had a random carer coming in to get me out of my bed whilst having to explain my routine in absolute detail which was tedious! The following 6 months were to be the biggest test for me, to the point I nearly quit university. My family however told me to stick it out – they just didn’t want me home shouting on the Xbox.

I stuck it out, which proved to be the best decision I ever made. I must thank my social worker as I believe the transition to Direct Payments, getting a care agency in place and liaising with University West of England was as smooth as I could have imagined.

At university, I studied IT management for business and lo and behold I was the first person in a wheelchair to study this degree across the country and still am to this day – unbelievable! The course allowed for an industrial placement, involving work for 1 year. I successfully managed to secure a placement with Hewlett Packard which meant moving to Reading!

The process of finding accessible accommodation, getting care in place and agreeing the funding within 2 months was like trying to find a needle in a hay stack; again I have my social worker here to thank. I ended up having to live in a Neuromuscular rehabilitation centre for 1 year because there was no accessible accommodation available near work, this came with 24/7 care.

My local council agreed to pay £40,000 for me to stay at this centre, acknowledging my prospect of employment and quality of life could be greatly enhanced by gaining this experience. I later went on to graduate from UWE with a 1st class honours degree.

3 months after graduating, I landed a full-time job working for Hewlett Packard as a Cyber Security manager. However, the job was not enough of a challenge for me.

In the summer of 2017 I was in Tenerife, sat by the pool drinking Corona and reading a favourite book of mine – ‘Start With The Why’, by Simon Sinek. This sparked brain waves around the many issues I have faced with travelling on and off aircraft and what could be done to improve it.

After googling some ideas, it quickly became apparent there was a huge opportunity to create a product to help improve the uncomfortable, unsafe and undignified processes disabled passengers with physical reduced mobility go through just to go on holiday.

On return from holiday, I started researching and putting plans in place to develop my idea into a prototype whilst working on intellectual property and a business plan.

By November 2018, I was in a position to apply for the UK Disabled Entrepreneurs Award, after submitting the application, I was shortlisted down to 5 out of 82 applicants. I then presented to the Founder of easyJet, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou and his board of trustees about the business idea I had. In the evening, we were invited to the awards ceremony, which to my amazement, I found out I had won £30,000 to kick start the business.

After the awards, Sir Stelios invited me back to his HQ in London where we discussed a brand license and investment deal with his easyGroup family of brands.

I have since left my job and I am now looking to grow the business in the UK and subsequently globally over the coming years.

In the 21st century everything around us is changing extremely fast and our ability to adapt so critical. Living with SMA, or in fact any disability, we subconsciously learn how to adapt. I try to use this experience to my advantage in the real world whilst helping others to solve real world problems.

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” -
Albert Einstein

You can see Josh's business idea and where it's got to, on his website: www.easyTravelseat.com

Josh gives his speech as an honorary graduate:

First published: 9th September 2019