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Holloway entrepreneurs who conquered Dragon’s Den are skating to success

PUBLISHED: 07:00 06 December 2010 | UPDATED: 13:28 06 December 2010

Entrepreneurs Karen Coombes (left) and Karen O'Neil. Picture: Tony Gay

Entrepreneurs Karen Coombes (left) and Karen O'Neil. Picture: Tony Gay

TONY GAY at tonephote@aol.com

TWO entrepreneurs who conquered the BBC’s Dragons’ Den to skate off with an ice-cool £100,000 are on the verge of launching a new sport.

The Off-Ice Skates. Picture: Tony Gay

Karen Coombes, ice skating coach at the Sobell Leisure Centre, and business partner Karen O’Neil, both 45, pitched their innovative twist to the rink-based sport to the infamous panel of fire-breathing investors in 2009.

Multi-millionaire Theo Paphitis spotted its potential and offered his backing, but even though they turned him down, their Off-Ice Skates are now about to hit the virtual shelves.

Ms O’Neil, who was herself the manager of the Sobell Leisure Centre, in Hornsey Road, Holloway, for six years until 2002, said: “Going on Dragons’ Den was like being at your worst interview. When you have the cameras facing you, the dragons facing you and the smell of the money – it’s really nerve-racking.

“We went on the programme quite early on but it gave us credibility and was a big boost. Now I can’t believe it’s finally happening. It was a hard job getting to this stage and getting people to believe in us – it’s very exciting.”

Explaining what sets her skates apart from standard rollerblades, she added: “The skates are curved just like an ice-skating blade, so you’re only on two wheels at a time, whereas in-line skates are dead flat. We have added a toe rake too.

“These simple changes enable people to mimic ice staking techniques – to perform all the turns, spins and jumps that you can do on ice but not on in-line skates.

“It’s the same as ice skating – without the need for ice.”

The two Karen’s, who operate out of an office at the Sobell Centre, said their idea was developed when the sports centre became threatened with closure, before plans for its demolition were finally dropped earlier this year.

Ms O’Neil said: “It came out of the fear of the ice rink at the Sobell shutting down and Islington having no ice rink. When we looked into it, there were only 60 ice rinks in the UK. We felt it could be a very popular sport in the UK, with the popularity of Dancing on Ice and the festive ice rinks show, but people have little access.”

After two and half years perfecting their creation, Off-Ice Skating will be launched online in January.

In the meantime, their invention is due for another appearance on prime-time TV – with top figure skater Dan Whitson, twice winner of ITV’s Dancing on Ice, to perform in a pair of Off-Ice Skates on the Royal Variety Show, on BBC1 next Thursday (16).

Mr Whitson, who is now a convert to the new sport, said: “I can now practise and perform all my dance and skating routines wherever I go and without ice – it’s truly a miracle!”


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