THOSE of us of an entrepreneurial bent often daydream about creating a product that will change people’s lives for the better. Few, however, have the creativity, business acumen and determination to make our ideas a reality.

Corien Staels is one of the few, and her innovative invention is already making life easier for wheelchair users in Scotland and beyond.

The Glasgow-based businesswoman was only 24 when she came up with the idea for wheelAIR, a unique backrest cushion that helps wheelchair users stay cool. Three years later, following an appearance on BBC business show Dragon’s Den, two major awards and endorsements from wheelchair users including a string of elite para athletes, her company Staels Design is in prime position to be a multi-national player in the mobility business.

“Our aim is to have WheelAir available to every wheelchair user who needs it and can benefit from it, whatever route to market makes that happen,” says the 26-year-old entrepreneur. “We’re working hard to make that happen.”

Indeed, things are going so well for the young Belgian, who came to Glasgow to study a masters degree in business, that she reluctantly had to reject an offer from BBC Dragons Deborah Meaden and Peter Jones to invest in her business when the value of the company, which has four full-time members of staff, rose.

“I was really excited to work with them but then I won two big funding awards and some of the big wheelchair companies became interested,” smiles Ms Staels, who originally studied fashion management in Amsterdam and came up with the idea for the cushion while researching for her dissertation.

“After I appeared on Dragons Den things changed very quickly and it didn’t seem right to go forward with the deal as it stood; unfortunately they didn’t want to renegotiate. Walking away was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make, but you have to do what’s right for your business. Taking part was a great experience, though.”

An award of £100,000 from Scottish Edge allowed the company to go into production and it is now selling well in 10 countries, with huge potential for growth. And its managing director is very positive about what Scotland can offer entrepreneurs.

“At home in Belgium I grew up in an entrepreneurial family but everyone there told me I’d need to work in the industry and get experience before I could start my own company,” she says. “In Scotland it was different - people said ‘that’s a great idea, make it happen’.

“When you go to London and speak to other entrepreneurs you hear them talking about being able to raise a lot more money – finding investment can happen more quickly down there, I think. But there’s also lots more competition and fewer businesses seem to make it. Here in Scotland I think we grow more successfully because there is more individual support for businesses. That makes a really big difference.”

As for advice for other budding entrepreneurs, Ms Staels says fearlessness is an important attribute – alongside a willingness to network.

“If you are really passionate about your idea, don’t let anyone tell you can’t do it,” she smiles. “Work as hard as you can and use your network to create opportunities. If it doesn’t work, move on quickly to the next thing and don’t feel too bad about. Lots of people don’t take that first step because they don’t ever think it could work. I remember being afraid at the beginning but eventually realising the worst that would happen if I failed would be I’d have to get a job. Go for it.”

What keeps her motivated, she says, is the ability to be both creative and help people.

“I love being able to see the impact of my ideas and bring them to life, that’s the coolest thing about being your own boss,” she says. “But the best moment of all was the first time we trialled our final product with one of our athletes in Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow on the hottest day of the year.

“We were filming in the sun and she became hot and got really nauseous. I switched on her wheelAIR and straight away her face changed. She said it was the first time in 20 years she’d been able to sit in the sun without overheating. That was a very emotional moment for me.”