You never know when and why an idea could spark. Some of Cornwall's leading entrepreneurs talk about the ideas that kick started their businesses and what came next...
I was sitting on a long haul flight. A mother was really struggling to feed her toddler between controlling the little one, the spoon, the tin of food and the bowl," remembers Michael Mailling, founder of Sproggie and Ignite 2011 winner. "I thought, ‘there has to be a market here for single-handed feeding'." This simple observation in a finite moment of time literally changed Michael's life. Coming from a product design background, he started sketching ideas and arrived at a clip-on spoon for a squeezable food pouch. Since then, he's invested thousands of hours, ideas and infinite energy into setting up Sproggie and getting everything in place to take his product to market.
Simon Gill, founder of The Safeguarding Community and Oxford Innovation business coach, also remembers a single moment that set him on a new course. "When I read the first media coverage of the horrific Baby P case, I realised I had knowledge, research and practical experience that could address many of the underlying problems," he says. "This started a journey to explore how I could build a business to develop risk and safety management in health and social care."
Gradual evolutions and chance meetings
Many entrepreneurs can point to similar moments or sudden realisations that set the wheels in motion for their start-up journey; a spark of an idea that they just had to act on. For others, the idea developed more gradually. "The idea for Useeka.com evolved over a period of time," says Neil Simpkin, founder of the ethical travel company. "I'm not sure I can pinpoint one particular moment, though I do recall a couple of particular conversations when, as I talked about bringing ethical travel choices to a mainstream audience, I got a really positive reaction. That's when I realised this could really work, which gave me the motivation to make it happen. Everybody gets to their starting point differently, but recognising those moments and using them as your motivation is really important."
While starting their own business is a very individual journey for some, others say it was meeting someone else driven by the same ideas that gave them the impetus to move forward. "I'd recently been made redundant and joined a programme run by the Cornwall School for Social Entrepreneurs to learn how to set up a social enterprise," explains Janet Popham, co-founder of GP Assist. She met Scott Bennett, who wanted to develop a business in the health sector. "We realised that between us, we had a combination of skills and experience to offer GPs a new approach to locally commissioning services for their patients, minimising demands on their time. For us, working together offers more opportunity for innovation than trying to go it alone."
Spot the difference
But whether it's saving GPs' time or making it easier to feed babies, understanding the problem at the heart of a business idea is key. "You must be absolutely clear as to the ‘problem' your idea is going to solve and the benefits it offers," says Alan Street, business expert at Oxford Innovation. "What is it that's different about your idea?"
"The idea came quickly, the research process was quite lengthy," says Emma Mansfield, founder of Lovely Little Books. "But all the time I was considering what is going to make this different? What will make the books pick-up-able and what will make them leap off the shelf?" She clearly got it right; her Little Book of Cornwall has become a bestseller and she's released six more titles since.