Innovation Award Blog
2018 saw three winners of the Innovation Award at the Bath SETsquared Innovation Centre. We have asked the winners to write their own blog posts so that we can hear all about their entrepreneur journey as it develops. Read Nia Simpson’s blog about her winning business idea ‘Compact Cane Ltd’.
#1 November 2018
Since winning the University Innovation Award in May, I've enjoyed four months of summer travelling, celebrating my graduation in Mechanical Engineering (MEng), and resting, all of which helped to rejuvenate me after an intense final year. But, to be honest, I couldn't shake the feeling of being overwhelmed by this life-changing opportunity and the uncertainty around it. Thankfully, taking time to reflect, whether in a Middle Eastern desert or my London bedroom, helped me to emotionally prepare myself for my new adventure! My brother told me that fear and excitement are the same emotion; the only difference between them is my attitude towards it. So, I chose to overwrite my feelings of nervousness with excitement for this awesome opportunity over the next 12 months!
In September (a month before officially starting), I was intentional with equipping myself with knowledge in how to effectively create a tech startup and develop my product idea - Compact Cane, an intelligent discreet 'white cane' for visually impaired people. I bought myself ‘Self Made: The Definitive Guide to Business Startup Success’ and attended a business conference at my church to connect with and learn from influential businesspeople. From this, I was encouraged to 'work my network' – tap into the pool of talented people in my family and friendship groups – and received one-to-one coaching to build my confidence.
I also wanted to ensure I had a clear vision of where I'm heading on this business journey, to help shape my future decisions and motivate me when I face challenges. So, I discussed my aspirations and developed my business plans with trusted businesspeople, documenting everything in my journal. Thankfully, I'm from a family of entrepreneurs and business experts so getting sound advice was easy, as was finding mentors: my parents, who are have years of experience in business and happen to be my #1 fans!
The last few weeks since starting have been very productive – for example, I've developed a system to manage my business finances, connected with local entrepreneurs at networking events, and updated my project plan. Though, the highlight was definitely attending 3 Day Startup (3DS) with forty-nine other SETsquared university students! Over the weekend (Friday 19th to Sunday 21st), I participated in this intensive learning-by-doing entrepreneurship program based at University of Surrey. I worked in a team to develop a marketing tool for pubs – an app that uses free drinks to encourage young people to explore their local pubs with friends. Together, we created a lean business canvas, conducted ‘customer discovery’ in the Guildford town centre to understand the real problems pubs and young people face, used our findings to refine and improve our business idea, designed a prototype for the app, and pitched our business idea to a panel of entrepreneurs and investors.
The program was a great opportunity to meet, inspire and be inspired by other aspiring entrepreneurs, develop my pitching skills, and build confidence in my ability to develop my own business ideas. I learnt that collaboration yields stronger products, listening to customers is vital for creating a successful product, and ‘pivoting’ – being flexible with my solution – is essential! It was an amazing experience that kickstarted me into the 12-month program; in the subsequent weeks, I registered my company – Compact Cane Ltd, started to prototype my technology to improve the safety of Compact Cane, and further developed my business plan.
This year is about building my Product, Knowledge and Network, so I've started to take daily vlogs to track my development in these three areas! I look forward to next month where I'll be receiving one-to-one coaching in public speaking, helping inspire the next generation of innovators through working with the University, attending conferences like BE Who Made It Happen and WorldLabs Elevating Ideas 2018, and further developing my product and business!
See you in a month 😊
#2 December 2018
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!
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.
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 😊
#3 January 2019
Hello again (and Happy New Year – I can just about get away with saying that on here 😊). Since the previous blog, I decided to slow down and rejuvenate over the Christmas, to be able to define a clear vision and plan for 2019. I anticipated that this year could become overwhelming with the speed of growth and progression, so I wanted to ensure I was always grounded as to the direction I should move in.
The keyword I identified last time was team. Whilst this is on the forefront of my mind, I realised I needed to define the business direction, vision, mission and ethos before building a team, so we could be aligned in the decisions we make. The Enterprise Bath Business Plan Competition has been the main driver for the last few months – I’ve been put under (good) pressure to write a business plan which has forced me to think about these things. Currently, the vision of Compact Cane Ltd is “A world where visually impaired people feel as included and embraces as sighted people”, and the mission is “To work with visually impaired people to develop innovative solutions that build confidence, create community and challenge the status quo”. I’m really excited to work towards these! This competition has been the catalyst to changing this Compact Cane from a ‘project’ to a ‘business’. I’ve been refining the business model so that my customers will be well served, and the business can be sustainable and healthy! It’s all exciting 😊
So in keeping with the previous blog, on the Product side, I’ve now partnered with Health Tech Hub (UWE and ERDF) to get technical assistance with some prototyping. I needed computer scientists and electronic engineers, and Health Tech Hub have provided a small team to help progress my technology. I’m very pleased as I hit a stumbling block and had limited time and expertise to address it. On the Knowledge side, I’ve been getting really good advice for how to write a business plan. I’ve been enjoying revisiting my university notes to develop my plan but having more experienced people to guide me has been amazing.
I have also attended a Pitch Deck Masterclass where I learned how to refine my future pitches. And on the Network side, I’ve been meeting really helpful people everywhere I go. I have people helping me with my branding, business plan, market validation and prototype – I really feel blessed because it’s been quite organic so far. My eyes are still open for co-founders and team members, but I’m not trying to force anything that’s not meant to be. I’m confident I’ll find the right people at the right time.‘Team’ is still the keyword for this stage – I’m realising with the right people around me, I can achieve pretty much anything.
Thanks for reading and see you again soon.