23 September 2016
Find out how one man turned his “light bulb moment” into reality
Guy Jeremiah invented the Ohyo collapsible water bottle when he had a “light bulb moment” in the train station, proving that inspiration can hit you anywhere. Guy then took the crucial steps to turn his idea into a viable business. Today Ohyo bottles are stocked by a large number of major retailers and are exported all over the world. We asked him what he needed to do in those early days to make it happen.
Hi Guy! Where did the idea come from to start your own business?
Ohyo was born out of necessity. I found myself at St Pancras station with no water fountain in sight, no bottle in my pocket, and no option but to buy a bottle of water. From my background in running my own environmental consultancy business, I knew the wasted resources that made that bottle of water. It takes a quarter litre of oil and up to 7 litres of water to make 1 litre of bottled water. There are enough plastic bottles discarded every year to stretch round the world 1,000 times!
I concluded that people are reluctant to carry re-usable bottles because they are too bulky and invented Ohyo as a handy, collapsible water bottle that’s easy to take anywhere. An extended Ohyo holds 500ml, or 1,000ml for the larger version. When empty, an Ohyo will compress down to fit in a pocket. Using (and re-using) an Ohyo avoids the need to buy environmentally-damaging bottled water. In summer 2009 we cycled round London looking for fountains and established a free app for users to find drinking water sources near them.
How did the Business & IP Centre help you along the way?
The next step for Ohyo, was just a stone’s throw from my Eureka moment! Having seen an ad on the tube declaring “Got a great idea, we can help you protect it”, I made my way to the then newly-formed Business & IP Centre at the British Library. They quickly helped me to do some research that established that my design was patentable and, furthermore, did not breach anyone else’s patent. This gave me the confidence to invest the time and cash to develop the idea and protect my intellectual property.
Having traded for a few years, I was then accepted on to the Innovating for Growth programme to help me get my business to the next phase. Participation on the programme included attending workshops and valuable face-to-face support. Launching your own business can be quite lonely, but with the support of the Business & IP Centre and networking with like-minded businesses I never felt alone. When times got tough, such as bullying from major retailers, the Business & IP Centre was my first port of call for expert help in establishing my clear legal position.
What have been your greatest achievements since starting up?
From my initial idea in 2008 to prototype, it took me two years before launching to great acclaim in 2010 at Prince Charles’ “Garden Party to Make a Difference” at Clarence House. In 2012, I struck a major deal to stock the bottles in Marks & Spencer as part of their “Plan A Sustainability Campaign”; a great example of how sustainable credentials can help to promote a product. The bottles are "carbon neutral" after just two to three uses. M&S were great to work with and made a major contribution to our worldwide sales total of 700,000 bottles since 2010!
What one piece of crucial advice would you give to anyone thinking about starting a business?
Understand your cash flow by keeping accurate records and making realistic predictions. You’ll sleep better at night if you know the money isn’t about to run out. And if it is going to run out, it’s better to have enough warning so you can do something about it!
We’ve been helping people like Guy turn great ideas into businesses for over 10 years now. To celebrate we’re holding a day of free workshops, talks and events on everything you need to know to start a business, from raising cash to getting your business online. You’ll meet like-minded people, chat to seasoned business experts and entrepreneurs and even get your first professional headshot. And our new ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’, Julie Deane (founder and CEO of The Cambridge Satchel Company), will be showing you how to start a business from your kitchen table. So join us at the British Library on the 27 September and get inspired to take your first step to entrepreneurship.