I was on holiday in Portugal when I reached breaking point. Literally and figuratively.
Having recently been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and juggling newborn twins and a toddler, I was attempting to feed three under twos when the handle on my eldest daughter’s fork broke off. As I sat there trying to figure out what to do next, she picked up the broken fork and continued to tuck in – with far greater success than before. This sparked the lightbulb moment for me, as I realised that most kids cutlery is simply a reduced-size version of adult sets, whereas ones which were ergonomically designed for little hands would really help with independent eating and thus, doddl was born.
I’d been a bit of a serial inventor, with a little black book full of ideas but with zero desire to return to my previous role at the local council I set about turning a broken fork into a prototype. The problem was, I also had zero experience of bringing a product to market and zero idea how to find the money to do so.
Tip 1: If you don’t ask, you don’t get:
I bought a copy of the “A Better Mousetrap: The Business of invention’ by Graham Barker and Peter Bissell and read it cover to cover, learning the basics of finance, IP, Prototypes and testing. I still had a lot of questions, so I looked up the authors, managed to hunt one of them down and asked if they would consider becoming my mentor/consultant . He agreed and was a great help in signposting where to go next.
Tip 2: Seek and thou shall find:
Through researching extensively on the internet I found an IP clinic for business ideas through the patent office in Wales. I attended a free session with an IP lawyer, where I was able to share my prototype and access lots of free advice.
Tip 3: Look local:
I made a list of local business support organisations and began to systematically approach them to see how they could help. The South West Manufacturing advisory services (SWMAS) were incredibly supportive, going through ideas with me and giving me a £2,000 grant towards product design costs. They also put me in touch with the Design Council who gave me access to branding experts giving advice in kind to help with the process of tendering and selecting a designer to help with branding which was also worth about £2,000. Through SWMAS manufacture advisory service we were also linked to Exeter university, who offered desktop research for the materials to help with manufacturing decisions.
Tip 4: Work the Network:
Through sustained networking, I connected with a local growth hub who recommended an advisor. They, in turn, helped me to tap into other mentors. I pitched at a ‘Meet the Mentors’ to business leaders from various backgrounds and with different expertise such as product design or business development who would then volunteer to be a business mentor for the start-ups whose ideas they liked best. We ended up with four new mentors from that one event – the highest of any business to pitch to the programme. Our mentors had expertise in engineering, finance, marketing and import/export – all elements that would help us grow. Through further networking, we connected with Matt Lumb, the finance guru behind Tangle Teaser who was an invaluable source of advice on how to launch a successful product.
Tip 5: Money talks:
As great as the feedback and goodwill from our mentors was, we still needed cold, hard cash to finalise the product and get it to market. So we kept looking for new support all the time. Through Growth Hub, we were able to access GRIP (Gloucestershire Research and Innovation Programme) and through them completed an access to finance programme, securing £3k to put towards building a better business plan and finance options around the business. We also applied for other business advice grants through GRIP.
Tip 6: Widening the net:
In the end, we didn’t limit ourselves to local networks but looked everywhere and anywhere for funding. We won an award through Wiltshire College and secured funding of £2.5K towards prototype development and access to product design support.
We also applied to the Innovate UK programme and were awarded a £5k voucher for legal costs, which helped us further develop our IP including trademarking in the US and China.
For the launch itself, we launched a crowdfunding campaign through Kickstarter, offering investors the opportunity to pre order doddl, successfully raising the £12k we needed to help get us to market.
Tip 7: Mutual benefits
Throughout the process we took the opportunity to partner with organisations and look for mutual benefit. For example, we created a brief for Gloucestershire University product design students – to help support the University’s course programme (which included offering their students a ‘year in industry’ gaining real experience working with real clients), and in return, they helped bring doddl concept ideas to life.
Tip 8: Awards
Entering some strategic business awards paid off for us in terms of exposure and also access. We were finalists for the ‘British Inventor Project’ run by the Gadget show and were given a free stand for a week at the Gadget Show Live. This also gave us the opportunity to present on stage every day for a week, direct to consumers. We also won ‘Small Business of the Year’ through the Soldiering on Awards, hosted by X-forces and were given Cisco as a mentor to support business growth and act as mentors. And it was through the soldiering on awards that we were introduced to one of our most significant investors to date, Alex Chesterman, who had previously launched companies such as Lovefilm and Zoopla and was acting as a judge for one of the award categories.
The Department for International Trade (DIT) was a good source for grants for trade shows internationally. Thanks to their support, we attended K&J Cologne (international baby show), the Las Vegas ABC baby show and the Best of British show in Shanghai.
Even when the business became more viable – we kept looking for opportunities and support – such as £10k matched funding for brand/marketing activity through DIT Somerset.
Essentially, the hustle for funding can take almost as much time as building the company. Researching and networking really helps to uncover expertise and additional support. One door might lead to a small investment or some practical help but that in turn can give you access to another – and so the opportunities can keep opening up for you. The first three years of a startup is key – there is definitely a huge opportunity to access support and grants during this time. Make the absolute most of any opportunity you can across all areas – don’t be shy and don’t be afraid to chase each and every opening!