Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Graham Whitby - Leeds Inventors Group 16/1/08

Out of the Dragons’ Den Yorkshire entrepreneur Graham Whitby shot to fame when he appeared on BBC2’s popular Dragons’ Den. In January he was guest speaker at the Inventors Group and entertained a large audience with descriptions of his experiences.

Graham told how he had worked in product manufacturing for 20 years before he met inventor Barry Haigh who had developed a device for rocking babies to sleep. The device comprised a base plate with an oscillating roller onto which could be placed the wheels of a pram or pushchair. The gentle motion produced by the “Baby Dream Machine” lulls the child to sleep. Graham could see the potential of the product and the two of them began working together.

Having applied for a patent they began publicising the “Baby Dream Machine”, attending such events as “Venturefest” and getting onto the local “Calendar “ news programme. As a result of this they got a call from the BBC in London asking if they would be interested in being involved in a new television show (which would become Dragons’ Den).

Graham described the numerous trips to London and the hours spent waiting around before finally getting to present their product to the Dragons. Their presentation didn’t go well and he said it was a perfect example of how not to do a pitch. However, because they messed it up it has been shown repeatedly on TV and therefore generated a great deal of publicity for the product! Each time the show is repeated sales of the product shoot up.

Although the Dragons liked the product Graham and Barry decided to go it alone, and have built an international business selling the Baby Dream Machine.

Graham is now developing further products, including an electric temperature control unit for a bath which maintains water temperature at a comfortable level for as long as required.

He admitted that when he began developing new products he had no clear idea of where he was going with them and had no detailed plans in place. This is a common problem with inventors – they often don’t know where their product fits in to the market or whether anyone will be interested in them. And yet they are so confident that they have a worthwhile idea that they spend a lot of money on it – sometimes tens of thousands – and keep on spending.

Graham cited a number of challenges to any inventor, such as the high cost of international patents, development costs and the importance of patent insurance to help cope with the possibility of infringement cases. But he believes that selling the product and finding a route to market is always the hardest part.