Innovation Award Blog #2

Hello again 😊

The last few months since the previous blog have been productive and exciting! Following on from 3 Day Startup (3DS), I’ve been using the motivation and skills I gained to build my Product, Knowledge and Network for the development of Compact Cane.

On the Product side, I’ve been busy prototyping the new technology to improve the safety of Compact Cane – so, there’s been a lot of soldering, coding and trial-and-error, which has been fun to be honest! In my final year, I taught myself the basics of embedded systems design with an Arduino (a programmable microcontroller, or tiny computer in layman’s terms), so prototyping this new embedded tech with an Arduino Uno has been fairly straightforward. However, there have been some technical issues with the physical prototyping – 3D printed parts and test rigs – which have caused hiccups to my original plan.

But in November I had an epiphany moment – I realised that I was fixated on perfecting the technology and was forgetting the bigger picture, to get something to the end user as soon as possible. My original plan was more sequential and in-depth, so I had to pivot to a more Agile development style to get quicker, more valuable results. Instead of taking incremental steps, creating test rigs to validate the principles of the technology, I decided to leap to the end and create the first iteration of the fully-working prototype and use real feedback to iteratively improve it. In December, I achieved this goal, though it’s not a pretty sight – but it’s a start! There are some technical issues, but that’s expected for the first version. This is mainly because of my limited knowledge of electronics, so I’m now looking for talented people to collaborate with in creating a viable, patentable technology for Compact Cane, to keep visually impaired people safe.

The best part of this Award experience is that I get to unleash my inner lifelong learner – I’m constantly learning and applying this newfound Knowledge to Compact Cane and my development as a social entrepreneur. Whether that’s through learning-by-doing embedded systems design and networking, or receiving crowdfunding and public speaking coaching. It’s because of my aptitude for learning that I’ve gained enough broad knowledge to get Compact Cane to the position it’s in now.

But I do value collaboration – from its inception, I’ve been working with experts to create a holistic Compact Cane. In the last few months, I’ve been connecting with local charities that support visually impaired people to grow my knowledge of the problem, market size and business viability, and using this knowledge to pivot and build my business plan with my mentors for the Enterprise Bath Business Plan Competition. All of this is showing me the huge potential of Compact Cane, so I’m quickly realising that I need more help to make it a reality!

Nia Simpson (Back row second left) at WorldLabs

Nia Simpson (Back row second left) at WorldLabs

The value of a team cannot be underestimated, so I’m “working my Network” to find co-founders and team members. I’ve been blessed that I’ve been meeting talented people that want to help me almost everywhere I go. In obvious places like Bath Alumni, Bath Entrepreneurs and WorldLabs conferences, and in unexpected places like at social events with friends.

One of the most productive networking events was the SETsquared Bath First Tuesday event in December, where I spoke about my Compact Cane start-up story. It was an opportunity to practice my public speaking skills, introduce myself to the local network, and ask for help – and I was not disappointed. I was overwhelmed with the amount of people offering me support, contacts and expertise after I spoke, and through this, doors have opened to finding co-founders, accelerators, and future PR opportunities.


Nia speaking at SETsquared Bath’s First Tuesday event in December 2018

Nia speaking at SETsquared Bath’s First Tuesday event in December 2018

So, as you can see, I’m really enjoying and making the most of the experience! And I’m noticing that I’m more confident in my abilities and the Compact Cane idea. Alongside this work, I’ve been supporting the University as a casual teaching assistant and perfecting my work-life balance. The keyword for the next stage is team, so I’m analysing my strengths and needs to find the right complement of people to collaborate with. I’ll also be building my business plan through the Business Plan Competition and product through the Digital Business Acceleration Hub.

Thanks for reading, and see you again soon 😊

Nia Simpson, Compact Cane