UK record-holder Rob Smith, who founded Birmingham-based Active Hands Ltd, will present its products to a panel of business leaders in the hope of securing orders from distributors across South America.
He is just one of five UK businesses which have been selected to take part in the event at the British House in Rio de Janeiro after winning the Pitch at the Paras competition, run by Department for International Trade Brazil and Innovation Forum.
Rob, who lives in Leamington Spa, began to develop gripping aids following a fall in 1996 in which he suffered devastating spinal injuries. His injuries led to a nine-month hospital stay.
“My hand function was severely affected by the spinal cord damage, so holding any items was nearly impossible,” he said.
“I couldn’t find any products on the market that allowed me to grasp items in the gym and other areas of life, so I invented my own gripping aids with the help of my mother Marion and her sewing machine.”
He began to play wheelchair rugby, winning UK and European club honours as well as being selected for the GB development squad, and then decided to try wheelchair racing.
Now a T52 wheelchair racer, he has won the Dubai marathon four times and has represented team GB in the European championships, winning a silver medal in 2014 in the 1500m
He has also represented team GB at the IPC marathon road race for the World Cup and world championship events and holds the T52 British record for every distance on the track and on the road from 100m up to marathon.
Working alongside his sister Mel Burley and dad Trevor Smith, Rob has built up the company following encouragement from fellow wheelchair rugby team members.
Active Hands already exports globally, with about 50% of its turnover coming from sales to North America.
As part of its current growth plans the firm believes exporting is key to achieving its goals of a wider global market.
Rob said: “We are thrilled to represent our products and country at the Pitch at the Paras event. Exporting is GREAT and has enabled us to support disabled athletes around the world.
“It will mean we can get information out to end users about our products so they can buy direct from us. We would also like to find a number of new distributors and resellers to sell our products for us into those markets. The Department for International Trade has connected us with fantastic opportunities to grow our global sales.”
Christine Hamilton, interim regional director of the Department for International Trade West Midlands, said: “Pete West in our international trade team has recognised Active Hands’ potential and over the past two years has worked closely with the company to help get its brand known overseas.
“As a result, its innovative products are receiving a huge amount of interest around the world.”
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