Inventor stories: Natalie Ellis, who bowled over the Dragons

In 2003 she signed her first major contract with Sainsbury's, worth £330,000, to supply stores nation wide with her bespoke selection of dog bowls, blankets and beds.  Shortly followed by a similar contract with Asda and one with Warner Bros to deliver all the pet related merchandise for the release of the Scooby Doo movie, Prestige Pet Products Ltd was fast becoming a real overnight sensation for Natalie.  Yet such a rate of expansion was simply unmanageable.  A victim of her own success, even working 19 hours a day, seven days a week, Natalie was struggling to fulfil her orders and in 2005 she suffered a devastating stroke.  Left unable to walk for months, let alone work, her business folded.

Bravely fighting on, the only element of her brief business empire Natalie managed to hold on to was a patent she had taken out in 2004 for a new 'non-spill' water bowl for dogs.  Frustrated by her own experiences of attempting to provide water for her dog on hot car journeys without spilling it everywhere, Natalie often resorted to trying to feed her pet pinscher by hand at traffic lights.  Yet after a run in with the police that almost resulted in a charge for dangerous driving, Natalie was inspired to solve the problem with the patented Road Refresher®.  Utterly convinced of the potential behind the idea, and determined to turn her fortunes around, Natalie decided to consolidate her efforts behind her innovative new product and go for broke!

In the first few months Natalie sold over 22,000 units in the UK alone and began expanding once more.  By 2008, sales had proven such a success Natalie appeared on Dragons' Den in search of additional capital to take on the lucrative £11 billion a year US pet market.  Concerned about her state of health, and fearing the US as the 'graveyard of British business', the Dragons declined to invest.  Yet Natalie's Road Refresher is now available in 38 countries and she has sold over 1.5 million units worldwide - even Barack Obama owns one!

Combining her passion and self belief, with excellent awareness of the value of the intellectual property held within her patent, Natalie's low-tech yet highly innovative solution to an everyday problem has seen her new company not just achieve success but vastly surpass her previous achievements - turning over a staggering £1 million after just four months trading in the US.

One of the stars of the British Library's 'Inventing the 21st Century' exhibition, Natalie is now a serial inventor and even just last week received yet another patent - this time for a new 'soundproof' kennel designed for noisy dogs!  Natalie is an inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs and inventors across the UK, highlighting how simple ideas can lead to global success.

For more information on how Natalie's Road Refresher® actually works, please visit www.roadrefresher.com.

Find out more about the 'Inventing the 21st Century' exhibition at the British Library.

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