If? Works is an industrial design company based in the heart of Rotherham's famous steel manufacturing industry. The company is growing rapidly by providing product, brand and website design services, and I employ two talented designers. Alongside this, I've designed a range of inclusive kitchen products. Inclusive design is an approach that ensures the product appeals to, and is usable by, the vast majority of the market, including those with disabilities like arthritis who may have limited ability in gripping or twisting their wrists.
My first product, a salt and pepper mill, requires no gripping or twisting of the wrists, and works by rubbing it in between the palms of your hands. It's completely unique, it looks great and it's playful in nature. All my products aim to create an emotive connection between product and user and their unique function and very subtle character will intrigue and make you smile.
My challenge, however, along with the many challenges of running a fledgling business, was how to get the products to market. Not only is it a saturated worldwide market, but in a time of recession, I had limited means to even patent or prototype my products. So I decided to invite myself to Denmark to pitch my ideas to one of the largest manufacturers of kitchen products in the world, that works with the likes of Alessi, Bodum and Joseph Joseph. Only one of my products, the spice mill mentioned previously, had a patent application, so it was a large risk to take - but a calculated one.
I dry cleaned my suit, created a presentation, and flew over in the morning of the August 24 2010 to Copenhagen, and pitched my ideas to the new product development team. They were so enthusiastic about my products, they invited me to do a second pitch to the head of international sales and marketing in the evening, and again the next day to the owner of the company. I was overwhelmed but managed to stay calm and professional.
A month later, I won the Sheffield Hallam University Enterprise Challenge, got shortlisted in the Shell Livewire 'Hot 40', appeared on ITV's Calendar News, made a working prototype for my spice mill, and I'm currently consulting solicitors to write up licensing contracts. I'll be flying over to Denmark to sign agreements for four of my products (and more to come) this week, and will be launching the new kitchenware brand within the next six months at international exhibitions, starting in February 2011 at the Ambiente exhibition in Frankfurte. The products will be on shelves worldwide within the next year.
I took some risks that I would probably have been advised against. And in that sense, maybe I'm lucky. But in my opinion, if you believe you have a great product, and you've done your research to ensure it's something that people 'want', or better 'need', you have to, at some point, take an uncomfortable but calculated risk. For me, the network of advisors that I surrounded myself with and learnt from were key to my success. And all the advice was free through regional development agencies in Rotherham and Sheffield and the university's enterprise centre.