Blind man who started firm in bedroom now supplies Tesco

Derek Walker wins Enterprise Award for wheatgrass firm set up when he could not get a job

Derek Walker, overall winner of the Irish Local Development Network (ILDN) Enterprise Awards. Photograph: Barry Cronin

Derek Walker, overall winner of the Irish Local Development Network (ILDN) Enterprise Awards. Photograph: Barry Cronin

 

A blind man who set up his own business after struggling to find work last night became overall winner of the Enterprise Awards after expanding his firm from a spare bedroom to a 929sq m (10,000sq ft) state-of-the-art premises.

Derek Walker (28), who was registered blind after he lost a lot of his sight through a rare eye condition, scooped the top prize in the Irish Local Development Network (ILDN) Enterprise Awards in Dublin.

Simply Natural Health, his Donegal-based wheatgrass production company, was set up in 2014 after he found it “impossible” to get a job. The business involves wheatgrass production and the wholesale frozen wheatgrass shots.

Mr Walker started it from a spare bedroom and now operates from a unit five minutes’ walk from his home.

He also developed an artisan food and craft market with over 40 exhibitors a week. Furthermore, Mr Walker has just secured a substantial contract to supply Tesco Ireland.

Speaking at the awards ceremony, Mr Walker urged anyone who has an idea or business concept, “who is finding it difficult to make the step”, to contact their local development company. “Had it not been for them, I would not be in the place I am in today,” he added.

Second and third place

In second place was Cahersiveen-based K&T Bakery & Cafés, while tech company Hub Controls, a household utility bill controller developed by Oliver Hynes in Dublin, came third.

The awards are designed to pay tribute to “outstanding business achievements in establishing successful companies that have created jobs for themselves and others”.

Irish Local Development Network chairwoman Marie Price Bolger said the companies were “shining examples” of what could be achieved with the right support.

“With great determination, market and product knowledge, business skills and support from mentors and training, these companies have successfully transitioned from start-ups to successful businesses,” she said.

“These awards are an acknowledgement of their hard work. I would like to congratulate our three winners today. They are shining examples of what can be achieved with the right idea and support.”

The winning businesses were nominated by their Local Development Companies and were supported by the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance or Short Term Enterprise Allowance scheme.