Active bodies, Active Minds: Helping people living with dementia

Ben Atkinson-Willes speaks to GrowthBusiness about how his start-up Active Minds took off, with the aim of helping people living with dementia through puzzles, painting projects and reminiscence exercises.

Living with dementia can have a big emotional, social, and psychological impact on a person as well as their family and friends. In many ways, the effects of dementia manifests as a series of losses for those living with it, which can make accepting and adjusting to these changes all the more challenging. When his grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Ben Atkinson-Willes experienced this first hand. This led to him founding Active Minds,  a company that builds products specifically to improve the quality of life and relationships for people living with dementia and those caring for them. He speaks with GrowthBusiness on how it all began.

What does your business do?

Active Minds develops award winning activity products specifically for people living with dementia, the products range from jigsaw puzzles to sensory games. The products are then sold to care homes and hospitals as well as families supporting loved ones living with dementia.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

The idea started while I was looking after my grandfather who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. While my family was caring for him, we found it so hard to find things for him to do during the day. Due to his reduced cognitive function, everything he used to do such as jigsaws and reading books became too difficult. We were forced to give him children’s toys to keep him occupied which was quite upsetting and it seemed like there must be a better alternative.

How did you know there was a market for it?

It was quite clear when looking across the care sector, that everyone, even professional care settings were having to use children’s toys simply because there was nothing else appropriate for people living with dementia. With an aging population the numbers of people living with dementia in the UK is going to increase from 850,000 to over 1 million in the next 5 years. This is therefore a huge and growing problem that Active Minds products will be able to help support.

How did you raise funding, and why?

The business was originally funded by Unltd, a charity that supports social business with grant funding and mentoring support. This gave the business the initial capital to get the first few products manufactured and test the market. Unltd then supported the business to find the first investors that would help build the team, invest in more products and grow sales.

Describe your business model in brief.

Active Minds is a design company that develops and manufacture physical products for people living with dementia. The products are then sold to the care sector with clients including BUPA, Four Seasons Healthcare and the NHS, as well directly to families looking after a loved one with dementia at home

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?

Try it, even on a small scale to start with. Explore how you can do something for very little just to get going. You will learn more on your first day trading than you will in years of thinking about it.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

Our ambition is for Active Minds to be the leading design company for specialist products for people with dementia. We have ambitious plans to grow the business internationally over the next 5 years to try and reach as many of the 35 million people living with dementia as possible

If you weren’t an entrepreneur, you would be…

I think I have always wanted to start my own business so if it wasn’t Active Minds I would have found something else to get going

If you could go back in time, would you do anything differently?

I would have hired the right team to help grow the business sooner. In the early days I used to do everything and employing people seemed like a daunting prospect. However, having a good team has enabled the business to scale much more rapidly and I now regret not hiring them sooner.

What is your philosophy on business or life, in a nutshell?

Be an optimist, if you are passionate about something and are willing to work hard, good things will always come.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.