Thursday, 29 April 2010

Claire Mitchell, Leeds Inventors Group 21/4/10

In an amusing talk Claire introduced herself to the group as a “Mumpreneur” – a reference to having a young child whilst developing new products. She has had several careers, which have included engineering and care home management.

Her invention is still at the prototype stage and she’s looking for funding. Baby formula milk now comes is cartons but she wanted a way to use it more conveniently particularly when out and about. She came up with the idea while on her way to a party, panicking about whether there was a sterilised baby bottle in the car. The idea was for a pre-sterilised teat which could be affixed to the cartons and immediately ready for first use. It can then be easily cleaned and re-sterilised for future use.

Having come up with the idea she emailed Peter Jones of “Dragons Den” TV fame. In reply she received an automated email asking if she’d patented it. She immediately arranged an appointment with a patent attorney who turned out to be very enthusiastic. As a result she made a PCT (international) patent application, being careful not to limit the use of the product to baby products.

This was just the first of a number of ideas and it had been Claire’s intention all along to make a business out of the products. She commented that having a limited company gives a much more professional look to the business, which is important particularly where inventions are concerned. She came up with the name Chillipeeps and registered this as a trade mark.

Claire tried out a number of marketing companies without success. Then with the help of Rowena Mead, who is also developing child-oriented products, she made contact with Richard Hall of Pd-M and using a confidentiality agreement told him about her ideas.

It was the start of a strong working partnership. Richard created a plan and costings and together they devised a vision for the business. Prototypes were tested and re-tested and by the 5th prototype the various problems had been overcome.

The next step was to find a company to manufacture. Claire was delighted that they were able to find a Yorkshire company who would be able to produce it for the RRP they wanted. The only problem was that tooling could cost up to £180,000. They needed funding. One of the difficulties was that often potential investors want a proven product rather than an idea.
She entered the Baby Products Association Concept & Innovation competition, and after convincing herself that her pitch had been a disaster, she was shocked to find that she’d won! Crucial to the judges’ decision was the fact that she had a plan to get the product to market. She was then able to exhibit at the Baby & Child Fair in London where she made a lot of useful contacts, including distributors from around the world. She followed this up by finishing runner-up at Venturefest’s Technology Competition. She was particularly impressed as she doesn’t really regard her product as technical. Once again, this opened more doors to her. She has followed this up by winning the “Women on their Way” competition 2010 for an Outstanding New Product – in spite of the fact that she was the only entrant not trading.

Further competition wins have followed and throughout Claire has gained more advice, mentoring and contacts, including Mandy Haberman, inventor of the “Anyway Up” cup, and Laura Tennison of Jojo Maman Bebe.

Claire is planning to launch a product range next March at the Harrogate Baby Fair. She is in talks with various large companies but believes that it will be much quicker and easier to launch as Chillipeeps. Once the products have been proved to work and have a market the bigger players are more likely to show a definite interest.

Claire finished her entertaining talk with a few tips for budding inventors. She pointed out that it is important to do as much networking as possible and to sell both yourself and your product (once you have filed a patent). It’s vital to be business-like and suggested that at the very least you need a business card – otherwise, as she put it, “you look like a nobody”. She followed this comment up by saying that you should check and double-check everything – she handed out a lot of business cards and then 18 months later realised that the phone number on them was wrong!

Like many inventors, Claire is keen to pass on the knowledge she has gained and is informally mentoring a small number of inventors herself.