A record-breaking Paralympian wheelchair racer whose Holmfirth-based specialist sports coaching company gives inclusive opportunities to people with complex needs has been named one of the most exceptional young entrepreneurs in the UK.
Louis Speight, 29, was born with cerebral palsy and often told “you can’t do things” in his childhood. But despite bullying in school and an eating disorder, Speight told his parents he wanted to be a wheelchair racer. He secured a scholarship to study sports science, specialising in clinical rehabilitation, and became a European record-breaking Paralympian, ranked no.1 in the world.
Although meeting paraplegic athletes living full independent lives was an “eye-opener,” Speight is most passionate about those with complex needs excluded from para-sport.
A zero-hours contract as a sports coach left Speight frustrated – “it’s a crap way to live,” he says, and he and former manager Richard Szostak, an experienced business leader, left the company they worked for (“it was all about taking profits out of communities,”) to launch their own social enterprise, Omnis Circumvado Community Interest Company in June 2018. Omnis Circumvado is latin for “all encompassing.”
The firm, whose programmes are all free to users, works with children, young people, and adults with the most complex needs in school and community settings.
Alongside the physical benefits, Louis believes in sport’s social power to forge friendships, learn skills and develop a person. They also break down other divisions, hosting cricket and sports with multi-ethnic groups to build stronger communities across West Yorkshire.
Its impact has so impressed an independent panel of business experts that this week Louis was named one of just 4 UK finalists for a “Young Entrepreneur of the Year” Award.
The Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards, funded by the Citi Foundation, are an annual celebration of Britain’s microentrepreneurs that have accessed “responsible” business finance. Responsible finance provider, Key Fund, provided a business loan and grant package to support Omnis Circumvado’s development when the firm was approaching a six-figure turnover, but urgently needed working capital.
Louis Speight said: “This is an unexpected honour, which feels like fantastic vindication for all the hard work both myself and my partner Richard have put in over the last year. We are both deeply passionate about the work of Omnis CiC and we believe Omnis shows that business can still be a force for good.”
Jane Austin of Key Fund commented: “We are delighted and unsurprised that Louis and Omnis have been shortlisted. Louis has incredibly insightful interpersonal skills and expertise in encouraging people of all ages and abilities to take part in physical activity that’s right for them – and in supporting sports leaders to include the right kind of activity. Together with fellow coach Richard, they have delivered activity programmes that change lives, as the business continues to grow.”
The UK’s 5.6 million microenterprises – businesses with 10 or fewer staff – account for 96% of all businesses, and employ over 9 million people. Some would not exist at all without the financial and business support they access from the UK’s ethical “responsible finance” sector, which in 2019 lent £171 million to thousands of credit-worthy businesses and social enterprises rejected by or unable to access finance from mainstream lenders.
“Young entrepreneurs like Louis play a vital role in strengthening communities throughout the UK by creating jobs, unlocking opportunities, and addressing social and environmental challenges,” said Bob Annibale, Global Director, Citi Inclusive Finance and Community Development.
“The Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards recognise the positive impact they are having on a local and national scale, and these exceptional finalists and the responsible finance providers which supported them all contribute to the economic, social and environmental vibrancy of their communities. We are proud to support the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards and the eighth cohort of finalists in the UK.”
Theodora Hadjimichael, Chief Executive of Responsible Finance, said: “With impressive entrants from all over the UK, entrepreneurs and their businesses needed to be truly remarkable to make the shortlist. Louis and Omnis Circumvado show how business can be a force for good. A thriving social enterprise, Omnis also demonstrates the impact of responsible finance providers, embedded within the communities they serve.”
Louis must now wait until 12 May 2020 when the winners of the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards will be announced at an Awards Ceremony in Bristol.