THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

6 posts from November 2014

25 November 2014

An umbrella with style and strength - the Senz° XL storm-proof

Senz umbrellaIt's looks alone were enough to demand the attention and curiosity of my colleagues. And it was certainly easy to spot amid the forest of standard umbrellas, drying in a corner of the office after a particularly wet morning commute.

And I have to admit one of the reasons for buying the XL storm-proof umbrella from Senz°  was its unusual shape. It reminded me of a stealth fighter jet or perhaps something Batman might pull out if caught in a downpour.

The other reason - and the cause for the umbrella's striking silhouette - was the company's claim that it is capable of withstanding winds of up to 70mph without turning inside-out - or inverting to use the technical term. This was backed up by an impressive and, at times, hair raising demonstration video, which indicates it would handle anything that our weather here in London could throw at it. Although I do not recommend that anyone try the test at 1.48 minutes.
 



Senz° joins a long line of anti-inversion brollies (a quick keyword search for "windproof umbrella" in Espacenet found close to 200 patents), each with their own take on how best to resist the elements. Senz°'s offering is unique in that its asymmetrical, aerodynamic shape channels wind flow across its surface: preventing wind resistance that would flip a normal umbrella inside-out. It will also automatically twist into to the best position for it to battle the wind - as long as the handle is not gripped too tightly.

The invention was the 2004 brainchild of Dutch industrial engineering student, Gerwin Hoogendoorn. In classic inventor style, he decided there had to be a better way after the frustration of experiencing three broken umbrellas within a space of a week.
 

The dream of making Senz - IDE TU Delft from IDE TU Delft on Vimeo.

Having made the initial drawings and producing a prototype on his grandmother’s sewing machine, Gerwin approached fellow students of Delft University of Technology, Gerard Kool and Philip Hess, to brainstorm bringing it to the market. Within nine days of the umbrella’s launch in 2006, they had sold all 10,000 of their initial production run.
 
It has since won numerous awards, including:
•         Red Dot award for design 2007
•         Dutch Design award 2007
•         IDEA (gold) award 2008
•         Good Design award 2008
•         Gold International Design Excellence Award 2008
•         ICSID Star of the Observeur award 2009
•         iF product design award 2009

Sexy Senz

So much for the theory, but how has the XL storm-proof umbrella served me against London's ever changeable weather? After six years (by far the longest any has lasted) and some fairly testing storms later, it has held up well with only a few scratches on the top cap from the times that I had used it as a walking stick (which Senz° explicitly state in their care instructions I should not do... sorry). More significantly, it has not inverted once during the six years I have owned it.

So a case of style and substance, rather than style over substance? In this instance I would say definitely yes.

William Davis on behalf of the Business & IP Centre

18 November 2014

Book Review - Salvation in a start-up? The origins and nature of the self-employment boom

The digital publication of this book by Benedict Dellot, published by the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) on May 2014, attracted my attention when it was featured last month on the “Small Business and Entrepreneurship” section of the Management & Business Studies Portal. It is a research study report, available for everyone as open-access material and there is no need to be registered as user of the portal to access it. 

Salvation in a start-up

The report looks at the reasons behind the rise of self-employment and microbusinesses in the UK, and is a very interesting report to read as it highlights the profiles of the main users of the Business & IP Centre.  It is an output of the project named “The Power of Small”, which seeks to better understand the growing community of self-employed and microbusinesses, and was launched by RSA in collaboration with Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade goods and vintage items.

Six tribes of self-employment

The report focuses on the individuals involved in the self-employed community, trying to answer questions such as why so many people are turning to self-employment and what this means for them personally. It segments the self-employed community into six “tribes”, from Visionaries all the way through to Dabblers (see Figure 1), presenting a typical case for each “tribe”. The author considers this typology crucial for policymakers who can then create effective interventions and policy solutions that will improve the livelihood of the self-employed community.

 The report highlights the following main research findings and recommendations:

  • Most people choose to be self-employed for greater freedom, meaning and control, defying the myth that those who started up in the recessionary period of the last five years did so to escape unemployment.
  • The biggest increases in self-employment have been in professional occupations (one of the highest skilled groups), defying the myth that most of the newly self-employed are low-skilled odd-jobbers.
  • Very few that started up in the last 5 years have taken employees, so there is need to stimulate growth and recruitment in the self-employed;
  • Despite the majority agreeing that the economy is getting better and the country is heading in the right direction, very few agree that the government adequately supports the self-employed and that the welfare system is fair to people in their position; there is need for urgent review of government policy on self-employment, from welfare and taxes, all the way through to education and housing.

 In the next phase of the Power of Small project, attention will be focused on the wider economic and social implications of the growth of the microbusiness community. This report – the first of three -  gives a good understanding of what it means for the people directly involved, but questions remain about the impact of a growing microbusiness community on major issues that affect us all, such as productivity, innovation, jobs growth, inequality and living standards.

Irini Efthimiadou on behalf of the Business & IP Centre London

17 November 2014

Loom Bands - the toy sensation of 2014

Rainbowloom-logoWhen we look back at the toys of 2014, it will be remembered for Loom Bands. Cheong Choon Ng created a plastic loom for his children to weave colourful rubber bands into bracelets and charms, and Rainbow Loom is the registered trade name of his invention.

From his beginnings in Malaysia to his current his life in the USA, his story is interesting and inspiring.  The idea came about when helping his daughters with their rubber band craft making, but he admits that his biggest challenge was to convince his wife to risk their life savings to invest in his invention. “I am the one in the family with all the crazy ideas, and she is my reality check”.  A couple of years later and Rainbow Loom is a multi-million pound international business.  You can read Cheong’s story in his own words in the Guardian newspaper, Experience - I invented the Loom Bands.

Choon Ng and his wife Fen

Loom band inventor Cheong Choon Ng with his wife Fen

The Rainbow Loom website is a splendid example of how it has become a global sensation, showcasing tutorial videos, press stories , a ‘Loominaries’ community  and Loom network.  In A craze for 'loom bands' Richard Gottlieb, from consultants Global Toy Experts, says “It wasn’t driven by advertising or big companies… there’s a difference between creating a product that sells, and a phenomenon.  There’s a bit of magic about it”. The products made by Loom bands range from bracelets, to dresses, shoes, handbags, brooches and pimped products such as watches Rainbow Loom Creations Pinterest board and on Rainbow Loom’s twitter feed @RainbowLoom.

Loom band example

When something is so successful, others will inevitably try to copy your idea. This is what has happened with Cheong Choon Ng’s invention, with copy-cat products and similar sounding names.

I am sure that Choon Ng’s children played a great part in getting his product to gain traction and impact, and he calls this the ‘Rainbow Loom ecosystem’.  I particularly like that this has encouraged young children and adults to become creative and entrepreneurial with loom bands. I was given a bracelet by a young relative on holiday in Italy as a sign of friendship, and I was asked by another to buy one in my national colours for the Notting Hill Carnival to raise funds for her school trip. 

Rainbow Loom’s executive, Philo Pappas, attributes its success to the product’s inherent customization and social aspects, “with kids and tweens now it is all about creating something unique and personalized, which is exactly what the Rainbow Loom does. Plus Kids love to come up with new designs and share them with each other, so there’s a social element too”. 

So the question is - have you got a toy idea or product that can capture everyone’s imagination? I know that we often advise visitors to the Business & IP Centre with their toy ideas. Through one of our Business and IP Clinics I met chess board designer Purling London who has create a handcrafted under-lit chess board for fine art collectors and professional chess players.  The idea came from trying to play chess on a beach in the dark. However in this case Simon Purkis is aiming for the premium end of the market. Our Toys Industry Guide gives a pointer to which toy trends are up and which are on the way out, as well as the key companies, and links to help get started such as the British Toy Makers Guild.

Chess board

Bang-logoOur partner Bang Creations runs regular workshops to help get your idea to market. They work through your unique selling point, who are your customers, how to get into production, how many you need to make, and how reach your customers.

Some of their toy success stories such Laser Strike Jet Combat are featured on their website.

Laserstrike1

Play is an important part of life, and if you are looking for inspiration have a look at the British Library’s Playtimes portal. It brings together 100 years of children’s songs, rhymes and games, from conkers to singing games, rude jokes to fantasy play.

In closing, I wanted to share a quote from Choon Ng, “I knew that not many inventors have their dream come true like this one.  But living it now, I treasure every moment of it. I would say this is the best time of my life”.

Seema Rampersad on behalf of Business & IP Centre London

11 November 2014

What’s new on… Datamonitor Consumer

One of the resources we provide here at the British Library Business & IP Centre is free access to a number of business and intellectual property databases; helping entrepreneurs and businesses to research trends, markets and companies, and to utilise and protect their IP. If you’ve ever wondered what the market trends are in a particular industry, how to write a business plan, or where to search for trademark registrations, then you can use our databases to find out. The databases are regularly updated and in a monthly blog series, we take a look at what’s new.

This month, we look at the Datamonitor Consumer database, which provides analysis of the global consumer goods market. Spanning areas including food and drink, cosmetics and toiletries, pet care and household products, the database covers key category, consumer, innovation and marketing trends and includes product launch and market data analytics tools.

Datamonitor is particularly useful for identifying key trends and innovations in a specific industry or market sector; helping users to analyse opportunities and gaps in the market. Another key feature is the ‘Successes and failures’ series; helpful for those wishing to examine the strategies behind successful products. Datamonitor also provides market data and statistics.

Readers can download up to 20 pages of text per day from Datamonitor.

Below is a selection of the latest reports:

Product Innovation Updates:

Reports drawing out some of the themes, trends and recent innovations in a particular industry, as well as identifying the underlying trends driving product innovation in this area.

•    Sauces, Dressings, Condiments, and Spreads Product Innovation Update – September 2014
•    Skincare Product Innovation Update – September 2014
•    Spirits Product Innovation Update – September 2014
•    Snack Product Innovation Update – September 2014
•    Ready Meals Product Innovation Update – September 2014
•    Male Grooming Product Innovation Update – September 2014
•    Hot Drinks Product Innovation Update – September 2014
•    Non-Carbonated Soft Drinks Product Innovation Update – September 2014
•    Household Care Product Innovation Update – September 2014
•    Oral Hygiene Product Innovation Update – September 2014
•    Make-Up Product Innovation Update – September 2014
•    Dairy Product Innovation Update – September 2014
•    Fragrance Product Innovation Update – September 2014
•    Haircare Product Innovation Update – September 2014
•    Functional Food and Drinks Product Innovation Update – September 2014
•    Confectionery Product Innovation Update – September 2014
•    Beer Product Innovation Update – September 2014
•    Carbonated Soft Drinks Product Innovation Update – September 2014
•    Bakery and Cereals Product Innovation Update – September 2014
•    Baby Personal Care Product Innovation Update – September 2014

Category insights

Reports outlining the most important consumer and product trends impacting a particular industry globally.

The reports include global consumer insight analysis, case studies and product examples. Key considerations and potential opportunities are identified based on consumer preferences and recent product innovations in this category.

  • Consumer and Innovation Trends in Suncare 2014

TrendSights

Reports identifying and examining key cross-industry innovation and trends, from new product development to organisational structures.

  • Retrophilia

Innovation Tracking

Detailed analysis of new products, innovation or trends.

  • Will Coca-Cola Life revive the carbonates industry?
  • Packaging Innovation of the Month: cupcake cream is child's play

Successes and Failures

Case studies analysing the success or failure of a particular product or service, with insights into specific sectors as well as the relevant consumer trends and attitudes that drive innovation success

  • Success: Nivea "Sun Block Ad"
  • Success: Kellogg's Special K Flatbread
  • Success: Ragú's Rebrand
  • Failure: Kashi

 Health and Nutrition

Reports identifying and analysing key innovations and trends across the health and nutrition sector. 

  • Trends to Watch in Cough, Cold, and Flu
  • Functional Nutrition: Energy

 
Sally Jennings on behalf of Business & IP Centre

10 November 2014

Innovating for Growth: The AnnaLoucah story

 I was introduced to Anna of Annaloucah Fine Jewellery when she joined Centre’s Innovating for Growth programme in June 2014. Since then, I have had the chance to get to know her better and admire her passion for her work, her talent and her dedication to ethically sourced materials.

Anna designs and makes jewellery, of recognisable and distinctive style, using fair trade and ethically sourced materials, including gold, platinum, silver, precious and semi-precious stones. She specialises in bespoke design and commissions but also makes limited edition collections that sell online or through exhibitions.

If you want to admire an exquisite piece of Anna’s work, you can visit the OXO Tower Bar, where her cocktail ring is on display from October until December 2014, as part of the Harvey Nichols campaign called Cocktail with a Cause. During the three-month campaign, those who order a Disa Goddess cocktail at the OXO Tower Bar will be entered into a draw to win Anna’s glamorous cocktail ring.

 

Annaloucah
Anna in her studio (copyright of Annaloucah Fine Jewellery)

Anna joined Innovating for Growth because she needed advice on how to transform her trade into a growing business. She participated in one-to-one advice sessions with our expert partners and received advice on her business growth strategy, her branding and marketing approach, her customer development strategy and trade mark and designs protection.

Innovating for Growth helped Anna to develop her business strategy and prioritise the actions she needs to implement for business growth. As a result, she is in the process of developing her brand, improving her online presence and accessing new markets.

If you are an ambitious London-based established business and want to apply for up to £10,000 worth of funded advice and support, tailored specifically for your business, have a look at our Innovating for Growth programme and apply before 8 December 2014. 

Irini Efthimiadou on behalf of Business & IP Centre 


07 November 2014

Book review - Noon, with a View by Stephen Fear

Noon with a View Courage and IntegrityGulam Noon was born and raised in India and lived in Mumbai. Having strong family values retained since childhood he joined the family business “Royal Sweets” and worked hard to expand the business. He left India in 1966 and came to London to find his fortune.

Having spent some time setting up businesses in both the UK and America – including expansion of his family business Royal Sweets, he established Noon Products in 1987 which led him to be known as the Curry king - credited with having created the UK’s favourite dish - Chicken Tikka Masala and favoured spicy snack - Bombay mix.

Noon Products in Southall produces food that tastes like its “Made in India”. Today, the company manufactures over 500 different chilled and frozen ready meals from factories in Southall and is sold in all the large supermarkets, the powerful motivation behind the brand was to create Indian food at its best.

Lord Noon is a man with integrity, honesty and social conscience, and talks candidly within the book about many aspects of his life including becoming embroiled in the cash for honours scandal in 2006 an episode which he was completely exonerated from.

The book written 5 years ago, is an inspiring read for any entrepreneur wanting to understand how to create wealth with integrity and honesty whilst retaining and cherishing relationships with friends and family since childhood. I wanted to quote the following passage from the book:
Quotation (Pg 85)

“I realise that anything I do through the foundation is just a drop in the huge ocean of suffering. I often explain my action by telling the story of a young man sitting by the sea shore. Each wave leaves behind it hoards of fish gasping for breath, the young man picks up as many as he can and throws them back into the water, he cannot possibly keep up. A passer-by asks him what he is doing as he seems to be wasting his time. There are so many fish that most of them will die before he can get to them . The passer by asks what difference he thinks he is making?Undeterred the young man picks up another fish, tosses it back into the water and watches it swim away – it made a big difference to that one he said.”

This sums Lord Gulam Noon up in my opinion, he is a man prepared to help individuals or groups in any way he can. In recognition of this Lord Gulam Noon has been awarded various honours including an M.B.E and most recently in January 2011, he was created a life peer as Baron Noon, of St John's Wood and was introduced in the House of Lords where he sits on the Labour benches.
Within the epilogue of the book, Lord noon mentions Noon Hospital a state of the art community hospital back in his birth place of Mumbai.

In summary – this book is an inspirational read for anyone, in particular those starting out in business looking for inspiration through a story full of courage and integrity. Lord Noon is a true patriot of the UK and a lover and patriot of India too.

Business Biography Book Reviews at the British Library By Dr Stephen Fear - October 2014
Noon, with a View: Courage and Integrity (Dec 2008) by Gulam Kaderbhoy Noon, Baron Noon MBE - ISBN 978-1-904445-79-1