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Personal frustration is sometimes the best place to start when coming up with a business concept. For MBA graduate Srin Madipalli this related to the challenges he has faced as a keen traveller who also happens to have spinal muscular atrophy.
Neither he nor his co-founder Martyn Sibley, who has the same condition, have allowed their disability to limit their adventures, which have included mountain trekking in their wheelchairs, flying planes and scuba diving. However, they were aware that access to such pursuits could be made easier for people in similar circumstances, so they developed an online business to help organise the logistics for such trips.
Mr Madipalli, a former lawyer who quit after four years in practice to complete his MBA at Oxford’s Saïd Business School, first teamed up with Mr Sibley, a former product development executive at British disability charity Scope, to launch a leisure magazine for those whose physical condition created difficulties with travel.
They built a readership of 40,000 a month then realised there could be a bigger opportunity in creating an online marketplace for travel services. The tipping point came in 2011 when Mr Madipalli tried to plan a six month round-the-world trip using existing travel websites and hit multiple problems organising places to stay, delivery of medical equipment and modes of travel he could use easily.
“Finding suitable accessibility in terms of accommodation and transport takes a painful amount of time and much of the information on the web can be unreliable or just plain inaccurate,” he says. “While our magazine helped raised awareness and share experiences, we felt that to really solve this problem, we had to create a one-stop website for accessible travel.”
Building the business
The pair describe their app-based service, called Accomable, as an Expedia or Airbnb for people with mobility issues. “After experimenting with a number of concepts and ideas, Martyn and I decided to focus on accommodation as our entry point,” Mr Madipalli explains. The first version of the app went live earlier this year and the founders, currently the only full-time employees of the business, are now building up and vetting their list of property vendors.
“We’ve just started enabling users to connect to vendors and have a small group who have booked property stays in Cornwall, Normandy and Barcelona,” says Mr Madipalli, who handles product development and coding, leaving Mr Sibley to lead on marketing and sales.
“We’ve also started collecting information on other vital accessible travel services, such as adapted taxis and medical equipment hire,” Mr Madipalli adds.
Saïd’s Launchpad start-up incubator space provided a place to develop the business plan. In 2013, Mr Madipalli won a £20,000 Skoll Venture Award, an annual prize given to three Saïd MBA graduates whose ventures are deemed to have the most potential to create large scale social impact.
Mr Madipalli notes that the reputation of Saïd as a place where students could experiment with start-up ideas in a supportive environment was important to his choosing to study there.
“Being part of the wider university means that you can work with amazingly talented people from a number of diverse backgrounds and skill sets,” he says.