There is something powerful about ‘transit magazines’ such as those you would find in the back of an AddisonLee taxi (Addlib), British Airways (High Life) magazine or even the Metro for that matter when it comes to opening our eyes to what is happening right in our back yard. British Airways was the first to profile a start-up called SUGRU (Irish for ‘Play’; reminds me of the LEGO story where I used to work in 1998 for the ‘Director of Moulding’ in the United States, Legot or ‘play well’ in Danish inspired the brand name for the family owned toys and now media company). For the generation that grew up with MacGyver and plasticine this is where the two meet each other and deliver a unique hack culture where the use of the material is not dictated by the inventor or company but rather the crowd. The material itself is nothing short of amazing as I discovered recently when the inventor sent me some to try out and is able to act as a temperature resistant, air curing rubber of sorts that is able to bond to pretty much anything and is supple and flexible enough to deliver a fix for the ubiquitous ‘breaking’ apple charging cable to helping form its own design culture around object enhancement. Jane ni Dhulchaointigh the founder of Sugru was able to secure a small pot of funding from a NESTA (£35K from a lottery funded programme for creative businesses) to prototype the product and build the idea out into a scalable business. Jane is an example of the kind of entrepreneur that we need to champion, celebrate and use as a source of inspiration as she is a ‘Made In Britain’ brand who also ‘Manufactures in Britain’.
Insight: As a trainee chemical engineer I worked at Lego’s only manufacturing plant in the US in Enfield. That plant which used to produce over 2 bn peices of LEGO remains no longer and that manufacturing has gone overseas. We need to celebrate those that choose to manufacture here in the UK and create materials that deserve all the awe that true invention inspires. These are Eureka businesses.
Insight: I refer to the recent pre-budget input that was presented earlier in the month over a breakfast event by StartUp Britain (this was chaired by Lord Young) that showcases that the programme which helped fund creative startups like SUGRU does not exist any longer. With Sugru now being exported to over 80 countries the ‘prize’ for the small investments from an entrepreneurial government is clear. For more information about the Entrepreneurs’ budget please visit: http://www.startupbritain.org/news/2012/03/14/an-entrepreneurs-budget-launched-by-startup-britain/
Insight: Though the press gave Sugru considerable attention the fact remains that ‘culture’ in North America sees the average consumer create much greater word of mouth buzz about products and services. The UK is in some ways behind its American cousins in celebrating success and promoting products and services that create the kind of mindshare necessary even without the expert assistance of a PR company.
Another business I recently had the pleasure of getting to know is one that truly falls under the ‘growth’ category and has its roots in East London from about 1938. I had the pleasure of meeting the now owner of Alma Home, Mr. Saeed Khalique at an art gallery recently where he invited me to come to see a business that once upon a time boasted retail outlets in Harrods as a high-end leather manufacturer/retailer. Today Mr. Khalique’s business which manufactures in a facility with several thousand square feet of factory space in East London underground looks on the surface like an unassuming leather shop filled with various further pieces but one look underground and the story is entirely different. As a supplier to only the highest specs of leather usage in trade Alma home today provides leather walls, floors etc to luxury projects such as the now famous 1 Hyde Park corner luxury residential development and tends to work with leading architects and builders to provide unique leather solutions to enhance space around the world. Also having won the bid for the Qatar convention center Mr. Khalique and his business are a testament to what real ‘craft masters’ can achieve as I saw first hand his band of merry men and women (immigrants and nationals) working together in the basement to fashion perfectly crafted leather items. Mr. Khalique also surprised me with an introduction to the latest member of the team, a robot that looked like it was advanced enough to fashion even a leather replica of me. Alma is as its website states truly ‘redefining how leather is used in the 21st century’. With an ambitious and creative management team this company is one to watch over the next few years as it grows its way through differentiated design.
Insight: A number of skilled trades and businesses that produce high quality products made in the UK do not have apprenticeship programmes in place and there is a real opportunity to put these in place through the public and third sector while helping disadvantaged youth that may be NEETs (Not In Education, Employment and Training) to deliver social returns.