AS a teenager, Ben Wolfenden was told that he would probably die before his 30th birthday.
He’s defied this bleak prognosis to become an award-winning businessman, who believes other sufferers from life-limiting conditions must never abandon their dreams.
Now aged 33, Mr Wolfenden is playing a leading role in the development of Visibilis, a fast growing Leeds-based digital marketing agency. He’s determined to transform Visibilis into one of the leading firms in its sector, despite suffering from cystic fibrosis and diabetes. With only 50 per cent lung function, Mr Wolfenden undergoes a gruelling regime of medication and five hours of physiotherapy every day.
In 2014, he won the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs, taking home a cash prize of £50,000 to help him grow his business. The awards are run by EasyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou and the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability.
Since then, Mr Wolfenden has been able to double the size of his team, win more clients, and move to a larger office. Over the last year, Mr Wolfenden’s health has taken its toll, but that hasn’t held back the company or crushed his spirits. The company is set to increase its staff numbers from 11 to 15 by the fourth quarter of this year. The turnover figure, which stood at £361,120 in the 2014 to 2015 financial year, is expected to have reached £650,000 this year. He has another reason to keep fighting. He has a two-year-old son Max.
Mr Wolfenden has never forgotten the day doctors told him he was unlikely to live to 30.
Mr Wolfenden said: “At such a young age, being given that kind of life-limiting figure, means that you can go either of two ways. I was going to make sure that I filled this life with as much as I possibly can.
“I’ve done all the things that people love to dream about. I didn’t have the option to think, ‘One day, in retirement, I will do that.’
“I make things happen. Then, when it comes to business, it is a case of every day, you make sure things get done. You have a ‘to do’ list. You make sure things get actioned. And it’s like a snowball effect.
“I want to make sure that when I look back at the end of my life, whenever that may be, I can say, ‘I made a good crack of that.’
He’s always been a natural entrepreneur, who loves to inspire others. Along with his co-founder Ryan Dearlove, he established Visibilis in 2011, when the economy was struggling.
Mr Wolfenden said: “There was that feeling, that because of the structure my life had to take, I knew there were going to be hurdles and obstacles and issues when it came to having a regular job..I had to be the master of my own destiny. I had to really take control.
“I’ve had to take a decision over the last six months to not be as critical (to the business) on a daily basis,’’ he added. “So if I end up in hospital for a week, that’s not business critical. That has enabled us to look more strategically, to be able to look at the skills sets we have within the team and make sure we can find the right person for the roles that we have.
“A lot of people with disabilities want to achieve more..because they want to go that extra mile. You can find incredibly talented, and incredibly driven people. They might not be able to give you 40 to 60 hours a week, but they can give you a great 20 hours a week.”
He added: “I’ve learned that no matter how often you get knocked back, it’s a case of reviewing the situation, looking at what you can learn from it, and finding out how next time, it might go your way.”