Interview with Kelli Aspland, Solar Buddies
How did you spot the opportunity for innovation in your market sector/area?
Both mine and Laura’s children were having issues applying their sunscreen whilst in school. We were fed up of sending in conventional bottles of sunscreen and the contents being wasted because the children couldn’t apply them properly. Teachers were also unable to assist them due to no touch policies in place, it made this really important task for the children very difficult. One day a teacher called me into school apologising for the mess my children had got into and for the state of their uniform. Another child had sunburn because they weren’t protected . Me and Laura spoke about these incidents and both thought that there really had to be an easier way for our kids to apply their lotion. Having done some quick research we realised there really was nothing around that would solve the issues of children applying sunscreen in a controlled and mess free manner. This then opened up the idea of actually trying to develop something ourselves. This of course took a lot more work and time than we had originally thought but once the ideas started flowing there was no stopping us from completing what we set out to do!
How did you go about setting up the business and developing your idea/where or who did you approach for support and help?
The setting up of Solar Buddies as a company did not come along for a few years due to the product being in development stages. During the product’s development stages Laura and I were both new to setting up a business and the creation of a product and we struggled to find the help needed to progress the idea let alone turn it into a business. We reached out to Cardiff Metropolitan University’s Product Design Department to see if they could help with CAD drawings as we only had our own prototypes and drawings of products that we believed could work well. We could not believe it when the University asked if they could take our idea on and using the skills of both Undergraduates and Master students actually develop a working prototype of our idea. We were both overjoyed with this and couldn’t believe our luck. Staff and students at the University were our biggest supporters and helpers in the development of Solar Buddies. Without their help it may never have got off the ground, so we always give them the recognition they deserve for being part of our Solar Buddies Journey.
Once we developed the prototype, we were able to start thinking of putting it all together as a business. We decided to seek help from Business Wales to help us understand what was needed to start our business up. We had a few sessions to talk through the basics but as our business was a little different to conventional businesses we soon realised we needed a more tailored business consultation that suited our needs as a new company. We had to seek IP lawyers and we needed to understand the regulations around selling a product to consumers. This type of help and advice was not given through one company and in the end we had seek this out with individuals. Starting our business and finding the help that was needed was very difficult and challenging but one we both overcome with a lot of hard work and research.
What was the biggest challenge you faced?
I think the biggest challenge was taking an idea and turning it into the working product. It’s all well and good thinking of an idea but to actually formulate was very difficult, especially when you have no experience in product design. The challenges of technically putting something together and make a working product was extremely difficult plus with no knowledge of IP and what was needed to protect our idea, we had so many obstacles to overcome, it was enough to make us stop and question ourselves sometimes - could we actually do this and complete the challenge we had set ourselves? But we were very determined not to let anything hamper us or get in our way. We worked relentlessly to learn all we needed to, to get this off the ground.
Is there anything you would do differently in hindsight?
Looking back on everything both Laura and I have achieved and done over this last 7 years since starting the Solar Buddies, I can honestly say no to this question. Why? This is because we didn’t have a business background or any experience of setting up a business let alone inventing a product and turning it into a working profitable business. When you have no experience, everything you do is a learning curve. I do not believe there is a wrong way of doing anything when It comes to business but learning and changing paths to suit your business is essential and this can only be done by understanding your business, how it works, and how to make it grow and prosper. You will always face challenges and make mistakes along the way but as long as you learn and improve then you can build a fantastic business.
What has been your proudest moment?
Now this is a hard one. Where do I start? I am proud of both me and Laura every day due to the hurdles we have had to overcome and accomplishments we have made, not only as a business but as people too. Our 3 awards that we have been honoured to receive are up there with the best of the best. To be recognised for achievements by other businesses and credible award bodies has meant the world to us. To have our business and product recognised is truly gratifying.
What advice would you give a would be new business/innovator ?
Don’t be afraid! You will never know if your idea will work if you do not try even if that means failing. Failing is learning and just means you alter your path. Research your idea. Your market research is vital when trying to bring in a new product. Before you waste time, energy, money, blood, sweat and tears on bringing your product to life, do your research. Make sure there is a market and make sure people will buy your product and there is a genuine need for your idea. You do not want to jump straight in and waste time and money on an idea or product that no one will buy. So find your Pro’s and con’s to starting this business/invention and then go for it when you know you have that green light.
Why do you think innovation is important in today’s economic climate?
To ensure business growth in any business, changes and moving with the times and your competition is vital. Innovation in business can allow these changes to take effect allowing for business transformation, good management, profitability and sustainability. There are always problems in the world that need solving especially with advances in technology. Innovation means new businesses, which in turn creates jobs helping economic growth. Innovation inspires people’s creativeness and problem solving ability. We believe nurturing innovative thinking and creativity needs to be encouraged especially in our younger generation through schools. Development of these skills can lead to great things in their future and changes to own economy. Inspire to create, to flourish!