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Key Fund Backs Ground-Breaking Innovation To Empower The Disabled

Key Fund Backs Ground-Breaking Innovation To Empower The Disabled



One of the UK’s leading investors in enterprise designed to change the world for the better has invested £150,000 in a life enhancing tool that could transform the daily lives of the disabled.

Northern-based Key Fund, the most prolific Community Development Finance Institution in the country, invested £150k into assist-Mi, a tech start-up which has developed a disability access App.  With 11 million disabled people in the UK, a quarter say they do not frequently have choice and control over their daily lives.

assist-Mi offers comprehensive assistance to disabled users on the go, empowering them to greater independence to an accessible world. The App gives users the ability to request assistance directly on their smartphones with participating service providers including banks, supermarkets, petrol stations, public buildings, car parks and offices.

The app will for example identify the nearest petrol station, and allow the disabled customer to send a message to the retailer in advance, and can request other goods if needed, such as milk or bread. The retailer is alerted through GPS tracking when the customer approaches to be ready to assist.

Julie Wake, Lead Investment Officer at Key Fund, said:

“It’s a high risk business idea on paper but one which could have massive social impact for the UK. It’s exactly the kind of thing we invest in. Our mission is to help people find the right solutions to the challenges their communities face, delivering real impact through enterprising activity. There’s an incredible team behind the start-up, and we instantly saw the potential of assist-Mi, not just in the UK but globally.”

Gary McFarlane, Director of assist-MI recently featured in the 2014 disabled Power list-Top 100 most influential people with a disability. He was born with Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita and now has a background in IT and coding.

Gary explained:

“I came up with the idea through my own experiences, struggling to get appropriate assistance when I travelled. I knew I also could make it happen.”

He added:

“This has the power to change so many peoples’ lives and with Key Fund support we can build project momentum.”


Co-Founder Neil Herron, a consumer champion and entrepreneur, said:

“This is more than an App, this is a revolution. We want assist-Mi deployed in every building around the world, to remove traditional barriers anywhere. This is the world that we all want, a fully accessible, inclusive world without barriers, and technology can now enable this.”

Businesses and public services need to comply with the Equality Act 2010.  The company is working with the Government Office for Disability Issues (ODI), part of the Department for Work and Pension.

Neil Herron goes onto to say:

“This is a proactive accessibility adjustment, an efficiency tool and opens up an increase in custom from a sizable sector of the market”

The App is currently being piloted with Remploy with a strategy to take into Jobcentre Plus to help empower disabled people into employment. Pilots are also being prepared for two major UK airports and three rail operating companies and Sunderland City Council is the first local authority to roll-out assist-Mi. Petrol and parking are the two big issues for the disabled motorist and roll-outs in this sector with strategic partners will be in place before the end of 2015.

assist-Mi are currently on Kickstarter to obtain support from Service Providers and users and to ultimately raise the funds to help put this technology everywhere.

The Kickstarter campaign #AccessRevolution has attracted celebrity support from BBC Presenter Clare Balding, global award-winning percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie and Paralympic athlete and BBC Presenter Ade Adepitan.

Clare Balding said:

“Share this far and wide with everyone you know. Pledge some money for the amazing rewards to ensure that the world becomes a more inclusive and accessible place.”

Key Fund only invests in enterprises or start-ups that deliver positive social impact. All have been turned down by mainstream providers of finance.

Julie explained:

“Social enterprises can look risky on paper, with no equity or security, placing equal importance on social impact as profit. We find ways to surmount that risk with our highly skilled investment team using robust business support.”

The default rate among those Key Fund invests in was only 4.09 per cent last year (despite 75% of investment being unsecured lending) - a rate vastly below the double figures experienced by commercial lenders.

The smallest funding package is £3,500 and the largest so far has been £300,000. Key Fund managed contracts valued at £75m since its inception, and has invested £38m to date to hundreds of businesses which stimulate local economies by providing goods and services, jobs, training and work experience.

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