How to take designs to market

Entrepreneurial types can develop their own products, and win awards for them too – but will they ever make money doing it? asks Emily Pacey

When an entrepreneur tells you about developing and launching one of their own products, they tend to adopt a ‘you’ll never guess what happened next’ tone. A blend of passion for the concept and horror at the realities of trying to take them to market informs this delivery.

‘We expected to find an industrial agent who would take our product to market for a share of the equity, and that would be it,’ says Giovanna Forte, managing director of Funnelly Enough, whose female urine collection device Peezy beat the glamorous Apple MacBook Air to win Best of Show at this month’s Design Week Awards.

In reality, Forte and her brother Vincent, a GP and the inventor of the Peezy, invested £80 000 of their own money developing and patenting the product. They also spent £100 000 ‘going down the wrong route’, trying and failing to make the product out of flushable corn-starch material.

‘We got to the stage where we had credit card bills coming out of our ears and were thinking, “hang on, is this irresponsible?”. We never had any doubt that Peezy would take off, but we knew we had to find financial backing for the project,’ says Giovanna Forte.

Maxine Horn, chief executive of British Design Innovation, recommends that designers and developers work with universities on projects such as Peezy. ‘That way, you don’t waste money exploring dead ends – and you might even get a grant,’ she says.

Even if you are collaborating on a project with a manufacturing client, funding is not necessarily guaranteed. Bath-based product design group Matter recently won the Design Business Association’s Inclusive Design Challenge, with its moulded rubber cushioning material. It developed the concept with furniture manufacturer Herman Miller, using that company’s research and expertise.

Matter is keen to take the product to market, but the project’s future lies in the hands of Herman Miller. If the company decides to go for it, the Mo Dynamic seating concept will have a great start in life, but if Herman Miller says no, it will be shelved.

‘We couldn’t break away and try to manufacture it ourselves, because we used our client’s research to develop the concept,’ says Matter director Matt Wright.

Again, Horn warns designers to forge themselves a good deal when working with clients or partners. ‘Design consultancies can be very apologetic in their negotiations and put themselves on the back foot. Try to negotiate a 12-month exclusivity deal whereby the rights pass back to you after a year, so that you can go ahead with manufacture should the client decide not to,’ she advises.

Both Forte and Wright could be forgiven for envying designer Neil Barron, managing director of Gusto Design and winner of Thames Water’s London on Tap competition, which aimed to find an iconic carafe that will encourage the capital’s restaurant-goers to drink tap water.

‘It’s been one of the easiest and most pleasurable projects I’ve done,’ says Barron. ‘The beauty of it is that Thames Water has done most of the research and contextualisation of the project for me, and it is paying for manufacture.’

Thames Water is also paying for branding and marketing, another vital part of taking a product to market. Forte, a marketing consultant by trade, came up with the name Peezy herself, but appointed David Revell to create the logo, which was later updated by Ranch founder Paul Jenkins, who also designed the website.

The Peezy breaks away from traditional branding for medical products, a fact of which Forte is proud. ‘Clinical branding is so boring, but I don’t see why something that has a serious intent has to be dull,’ she says.

Matter used the same tactic with its cushion, which might also be launched into the public services sector. ‘We wanted to make it feel approachable. I would challenge any branding group to come up with a better name for it,’ says Wright.

As a winner, Barron could be said to have missed out on this nose-to-tail involvement with the product, but there is also a financial downside to taking a product to market via a competition. Thames Water awarded Barron a one-off cheque for just £5000. Since winning, however, Barron has showed his business nous, negotiating a royalties deal that will kick in if the carafe ever goes on sale to consumers.

‘Well-played,’ says Horn. ‘This was a savvy move by Barron.’ This business sense would have stood Barron in good stead had he lost the competition. In this eventuality, he planned to invest his own money in a small-scale manufacturing run to attempt to recoup some of the losses his studio sustained during its development. Barron would have embarked on what Forte calls ‘a massive learning curve’.

Eight years down the line, at least £150 000 of private investment and several awards later, Forte is still looking for £60 000 of funding to pay for patents. ‘You have to be brazen,’ she advises anyone launching their own product.

Market challengers

Peezy – needs at least another £60 000 in funding to pay for international patents in the next two years

Mo Dynamic – will only go to market if client Herman Miller gives it the green light

Top Tap – is set for manufacture and distribution to caterers from April, but its designer will only reap financial rewards if it goes on sale to consumers

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