In 2013, when he was just 37-years-old, Niall El-Assaad, was hit by a car while out riding his bike. The accident left him paralysed from the chest down and he spent five months recovering in a spinal cord rehab unit. While in the unit he learned how to drive using hand controls and looked forward to getting behind the wheel when he went home.
On his first solo drive he realised that things weren’t as simple for disabled drivers. His car was running low on fuel, so he went to a petrol station, but there was no way to get someone to help him refuel. His was a problem that is common for disabled drivers as there is often no easy way to summon help.
The power of problem solving
Niall’s background is in IT, so rather than simply putting up with this problem, he found a way to use technology to solve it. His bright idea was to create an app that would allow disabled drivers to locate and contact a service station where staff can help them refuel. Called fuelService, the app alerts staff when a disabled driver arrives, tells them the pump number and lets the driver know how long they will have to wait.
Like most start-ups, his idea hit some bumps in the road at the beginning, but Niall believes this is all part of the process of getting an idea off the ground. “You need to pull your concepts back and start small and simple with ideas that are cost-effective and achievable”, he explains.
Shell’s ethos is to encourage smart innovations, whether it’s by inviting students to enter programmes like Shell Ideas360, with their ideas to solve the world’s energy, water and food challenges, or helping entrepreneurs like Niall bring their clever concepts to life.
Shell service stations were the first to introduce fuelService, with a trial in 60 stations in the North of England. It was so successful that the app now works with over 800 service stations around the UK and Niall has plans to roll it out internationally.
5 tips to bring an idea to life
The process of transforming his idea into reality taught Niall many useful lessons, which you can hear about in his webcast, but his five takeaway tips are:
- The hardest thing to do is get started – but once you are over that hurdle you can build a plan to achieve your goals.
- Choose an idea you believe in – because then you will be inspired and motivated to put the effort in to make it succeed.
- Make it easy – if an idea is simple to implement it’s easier to get people to engage with you.
- The perfect solution isn’t always the right solution – sometimes you have to go with the most cost-effective answer at the beginning, even if it means compromising.
- Find the right partner – working with organisations with similar goals enabled fuelService to grow faster.