Bringing innovation to global sport

In 2006 my son walked off the rugby pitch on a bitterly cold day with blue hands following an awful game. Not because they were a bad team but because it was so cold no one wanted to catch the ball! He walked up to me and shoved his hands up my jumper for warmth as usual. Looking around at the other players and thinking of the game I said to my son, ‘what you need is some heated gloves’!

Turning an idea into reality

That was the light bulb moment for me and I started researching and designing a solution. I bought gloves, some silicon tubing, a meat syringe and chemicals. I began to experiment with ideas and after around 6 months of destroying pans I finally had something that worked. Using Innovate Design to finalise my idea into a workable, patented design, I then began to look for potential manufacturers.

Our gloves use a very thin heat pack built into the back of the gloves, it works in two ways – either ‘Click’ or ‘Micro’. Our ‘Click’ gloves are similar to the hand warmers you see where you click the metal disc to activate. They are manufactured to remain flexible throughout use. Our ‘Micro’ gloves simply need 15 seconds in the microwave to give you up to an hour of released heat.

Kickstarting the business

From my initial idea to having the glove ready for market took five years. In that time I sought support from Outset Bristol, who deliver free business advice and guidance. Working with them really helped confirm that I was on the right track. I also sought support from the Start-Up Britain campaign ran by Enterprise Nation. It wasn’t until quite late in the product design process that I began looking for financial support. I started with banks, who turned me away, support from business start-up support, who turned me away and even appeared on Dragon’s Den who, you guessed it, turned me away.

I had to look for innovative ways of funding my business that didn’t involve the usual and unusual routes I had tried so I turned to my own pension fund. I knew that my pension was used to invest in other people’s business and wanted to be able to invest in my own. I approached a company called Clifton Assets to see if this could be done, which it could. I managed to self-invest enough to get manufacturing started and the business trading.

Getting the product out to market

I used a website called Alibaba to source manufacturers worldwide and after speaking with over 30 found a company that simply got the idea straight away and were as excited as I was. They were called Mikra who are based in Belgium and manufacture in Pakistan. They put their own money and resources in creating the gloves just the way I wanted them. If it wasn’t for them I would be here now. Finding them was really the key to getting the gloves developed and out to market.

Now our gloves are sold into local and professional rugby clubs who use them for matches and training. Our customers include salmon fishermen, helicopter doctors, parachute soldiers, obstacle course racers and almost everything else in between all over the world. When we first started though, it was a struggle to get our name out there. Having some lucky breaks from the media certainly helped with that. One of these included being a guest on BBC Radio 2’s Drive Time which kick started our sales and crashed our website! Another came from winning The Guardian Start Up of 2012 which came with £15,000 worth of advertising in their paper.

Always innovating

We are always looking at ways of improving our products and are running two research projects which have taken us into much broader area. One project is designing ‘Printed Heat’ which involves the ink acting as a heater when a very low voltage is passed through it. Imagine heated wetsuits, socks or wellington boots! Our second project is much bigger. We are developing a fabric that generates and stores its own electricity. Imagine trousers that charge your phone in your pocket or a mobile rescue tent that has its own heat and light built in powered by the outside fabric. We are also putting it into hard shell composites such as car bodies, product shells and drones. The potential is huge and the size of it is quiet daunting for a relatively small company!

Entrepreneurial Britain

I would say Britain is a great place to innovate because people here love new ideas. We’re a very entrepreneurial country, willing to set out on our own and make something for ourselves. The latest recession really made that stand out for me as I saw more and more people excited about the opportunity of starting their own business doing what they love. There is so much help for people it’s never been a better time to start. Instead of trying to predict what the next big thing is going to be, why not just go out and make the future yourself?