An Ageing Entrepreneur
(New Home for an Ageing Entrepreneur)
(Forgive the Self Indulgence of this Article)
With Innovative Minds At Work (IMAW), Jonathan Wade, serial successful Entrepreneur (living in the North East of England) is turning ideas and concepts into reality and enterprises for the positive benefit of people suffering the negative effects of ageing, mental health, economic disadvantage or people needing to overcome barriers as a result of disability. Jonathan’s ethos is quite simple, “It’s about trying to make a positive, sustainable difference”. Jonathan works with many partners to ensure we have a positive outcome for people, as well as campaigning for better conditions and services for people with disabilities. In what little spare time Jonathan has, he also writes for a local Business Magazine, consults with BskyB relating to disability issues, writes a blog and works with two of the North East’s Universities to develop the next generation of Entrepreneurs and Health & Social Care Professionals, as well as supporting disabled students get positive outcomes from their course and from their experiences being at Newcastle & Tees Universities. Jonathan states, “I never thought that retirement from the cutthroat world of commerce would be so busy but also so much fun”.
While running Neuro Partners the North East-based specialist care company he founded in 2006, and several other commercial enterprises relating to all aspects of health and social care, Jonathan Wade was struck down with pneumonia and kidney failure. The entrepreneur was accustomed to working “20 hour days for 20 years”, became desperately ill and spent three weeks in intensive care last year. It was during his subsequent recovery period that he decided to make some big changes.
Neuro Partners had become a highly successful company, providing services to people with Neurological conditions and operating multi million pound NHS and Social Care contracts. But success came at a price for his health and personal life. “I wasn’t really enjoying it, I was far removed from the care services, which is what it was all about. I felt I was only there to preserve and increase the companies’ wealth and lost sight that actually we existed to serve individuals and their families,” Jonathan recalls. “And as I was recovering from my illness, it was months before I was even well enough to get out of bed, I realised that my youngest daughter was 16. I don’t know how that happened, and my eldest was 20 and leaving home. My wife said, ‘you are unhappy with what you are doing, sell it all,’ so I did. I sold out of all of my companies. I didn’t have a single stock or share left. And my wife said, ‘right, now you can do the things you want to do, the things you have talked about all of these years’.”
What Jonathan wanted to do was to help people with mental health problems, negative effects of ageing and people living with disabilities, by working on some of these bigger issues (one problem at a time), finding solutions, new concepts of services, new technologies to increase independence and safety in the home. Just new ways of looking at problems facing society through innovation and partnerships.
And so Innovative Minds At Work was born. Launched in March 2012, the company is based at The Campus for Ageing and Vitality at Newcastle University and acts as a research and development company focusing on supporting people with disabilities overcome the barriers they may face and supporting commerce to deliver sustainable solutions to those barriers. Jonathan is considered to be an Innovator in Residence for Tees University as well as for Newcastle University. Newcastle University has a very strong research and technologies reputation and these are important to the problems we face as we must evidence the effects of solutions, whereas Tees University has such strengths in training the next generation of health and social care professionals. To help the next generation mature and come into their own is a privilege. With both Universities I also work to support students with disabilities, to help them achieve better outcomes, and gain as much as they can from the wonderful environment both Universities afford them.”
Smiling Cat Venture (www.smilingcatventures.org)
Innovative Minds at Work (www.innovativemindsatwork.org)
Innovative Business Consultancy (www.ibcv.org.uk)
Moments in Time (www.momentsinmind.org)
Systems of Equality
Passport to Care
Alternative Therapies in Dementia
Arts & Engagement Centre
Garden & Engagement Centre
And at least 15 other significant projects.
Even with all the above Jonathan finds time to write a blog, and has embraced ‘Social Media’, “I have worked with an inspirational MSc Student called Livia Gavrila who worked with me & brought my companies, my projects & even me into 2012, to explore and utilise social media outlets, & you know what? It’s quite cathartic to write a blog, as long as one doesn’t get sued too often!”
Jonathan still finds time to help people with their projects, such as being on the development Board for The Gateway, a private development by a forward thinking organisation called Keiro, which will be opening a private inpatients unit with specialist provision and strong links to Tees University; he does some occasional writing for other disability orientated blogs, occasionally writing for the NE Times and also assists BskyB, he comments, “I didn’t realise how busy retirement was.”
Jonathan, who was brought up in Worcestershire, started his career as an NHS nurse before entering the Prison Service, where he specialised in behavioural management and healthcare, going on to be the operations lead for a specialist maximum security unit in Birmingham housing adolescent ‘Lifers’, all serving multiple ‘Life’ sentences due to being Paedophiles, Murderers, Arsonists, Rapists, etc. He was later appointed Director of Youth offending at Premier Prison Services. He then went on to work as a Director for Rehab UK (now known as Momentum), a charity focusing on brain injury. “That’s where my interest in neurological conditions got started,” he reveals. This eventually led to him founding Neuro Partners and a number of other companies, after he’d identified a gap in the market for care and rehabilitation services for people with neurological conditions such as Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, brain injury, etc.
Jonathan, who has a degenerative spinal condition, uses a wheelchair and has carers to assist him, has first-hand experience of the challenges faced by people living with disabilities, especially in the business world. “I used to run multi-million pound companies and I’d go with some of my staff into meetings with corporate bank managers and they’d say to my staff, ‘it’s really good of you to bring a service user along’, and I’d say, ‘hang on, I’m the MD – it’s my money you plonker!’
“It is a bloody tough market for people at the moment regardless of disability, but if the first thing people see when you go through the bank manager’s door is how disabled you are, it’s impossible.” Jonathan continues: “I started Innovative Minds At Work to say to people, ‘we are not all on benefits, we’re not all wanting the state to support us, we just want the playing fields to be equal. Just because people may be profoundly disabled doesn’t mean that they don’t have a good idea, solutions, concepts. We want the Social Model of Disability to be a reality not a phrase bandied about by people who have no idea what it means. We want companies to be forced to exceed DDA requirements and shine through with their delivery and surpassing of the Equality Act. I get so very fed-up with rhetoric, time we delivered as a society to level the playing field.”
Innovative Minds At Work is philanthropic in nature and is funded by Jonathan himself. He applies simple criteria to any projects he undertakes:
ü Provide a solution to barriers or negative effects people are having to deal with
ü It has to make a sustainable difference to people
ü Has to be enjoyable to work on, no reason one can’t enjoy oneself at work
Developed with the help of The Campus for Ageing and Vitality, as well as wheelchair users, it’s the first non-metal wheelchair on the market. Described by Jonathan as “the first of a generation that leaves those old fashioned hunks of metal behind” the product has numerous benefits: it allows wheelchair users to pass through security scanners while still being seated; it’s easy to clean; it has a longer lifespan than metal wheelchairs as it doesn’t rust; and it weighs much less than its metal counterparts.
The wheelchair was commercialised by Moments in Time, a company created by Jonathan and his colleagues to take forward concepts ‘fostered’ by Innovative Minds At Work, and to generate income that can be reinvested in research and development of new products, or be donated to charities which support disabled people. “Developing products such as the Easy Roller is made much easier by having an open mind and remembering to listen to people. No one expects you to know everything, every project involves others and you should respect them enough to hear their views. Collaboration breeds innovation and it is through innovation we find sustainable solutions”, Jonathan explains.
Through Jonathan’s contacts and networks he also campaigns to make things better, such as Narrow the Gap, which aims to allow people in receipt of State Pension or higher level Disability Living Allowance to claim back the VAT on household fuel bills or fuel used in their ‘Motability’ vehicle:
Jonathan also has ideas about a lasting legacy of the Paralympic Games and putting disability agendas directly into the heart of government by making every gold medal Paralympian a Peer of the realm and have a seat in the House of Lords:
The future looks exciting for Jonathan and his team. New horizons are opening up all the time, which he puts down to having an “open mind”. “I’ve lived a third of my life in education, a third of my life making money and now I want to live a third of my life making a difference,” Jonathan concludes, “I’m just trying to make a positive difference, definitely legacy building if I am to be honest, and having some fun doing it too. Just keeping an open mind and trying to change things by fixing one brick into place at a time.”