How I turned my invention into a business

Sleeping baby wearing sunglasses

Launched in early 2010, following 18 months of meticulous research and development, SnoozeShade™ is a unique blackout blind for prams and pushchairs designed to help babies sleep during the day. Its inventor, Cara Sayer, explains how she turned her creation into a fantastic business

"One day in mid-2008 I was out with my baby daughter who was in her pram when her nap time came. It's a common problem for busy mums. Babies need their sleep during the day, but it can be difficult when you're out and about. Noise apart, strong sunshine can make it difficult to get some babies off to sleep.

"Later, I had a look around the shops and online for a product that would solve the problem, but couldn't find anything. So - rather madly - I decided to invent my own, even though I didn't have any product development experience.

Developing a prototype

"I made my own basic version of a pram shade or blind - using my elementary sewing skills. It resulted in the first workable version of my design, although many improvements would follow.

"I wasn't sure who to approach for help. I used to work for a magazine publisher so I rang a friend there to ask where they got their 'cover mounts' [free magazine give-aways]. She put me in touch with a manufacturing agent called Giftpoint Ltd. Fortunately, they were based near my home in Surrey.

"We chatted over the phone and after getting an NDA [non-disclosure agreement] signed, I took my sample over to show them. They knew exactly what to do and had various manufacturing contacts in China.

"I had different versions of my design made, each a slight improvement on the last. Finally, I had a working prototype, which I launched at the Baby Products Association Show in October 2009 in London.

Launching a new product

"Obviously, I hoped to find a buyer, but thought the feedback would be useful, no matter what. In fact, the response blew me away. Pretty soon I had several orders placed, including one with JoJo Maman Bebe - a leading supplier of clothing and products for pregnant women and families with young children.

"Getting the product ready to meet JoJo's deadline of mid-February 2010 was challenging, but I did it - including a few redesigns and rigorous safety testing to European standards.

"Things moved from prototype to product in just four months, which is quite amazing - it was a real rollercoaster ride.

Working with a manufacturing agent

"Working with Giftpoint was one of my best decisions. If I'd have had to go to China to find a manufacturer and manage the process myself it would have taken much longer and cost much more. Furthermore, I have family commitments, so I can't just hop on a plane to China at a moment's notice.

"OK, I pay the agent a fee, but I can still make a reasonable profit. Working with the agent removed much of the hassle, plus, they also knew a lot about baby product safety checks, because they work for Mothercare.

"They helped me with packaging, too. Without their help, I couldn't have supplied my first batch to JoJo Maman Bebe in time.

Protecting intellectual property

"I have patent pending and unregistered design rights. There's no point registering my design until I'm closer to having a patent granted - it could give away secrets. My logo is a registered trademark and - on the advice of a trademark attorney - I've registered SnoozeShade as one and two words. I've paid for legal advice, but I have also had free advice from the Intellectual Property Office.

"I used to work in PR, marketing and events, for amazing brands such as The National Lottery, Tesco and eBay. This knowledge has helped me to secure much free publicity.

"I've self-funded my business. Thankfully, developing the product didn't require a big investment, plus, I've been able to keep my costs down by, for example, getting a friend to design my logo, while my brother created my website. However, I had to use all my personal savings to fund the first product run.

Cara's top three tips

  • "Make good use of all free sources of advice about protecting your intellectual property. Begin by visiting the Intellectual Property Office website"
  • "Get a non-disclosure agreement signed before you reveal your invention to a potential manufacturing partner. Don't register your design until your patent is close to being granted"
  • "If you plan to get your product made overseas, find a good manufacturing agent. Their assistance and contacts could save you a lot of time, effort and money"

This case study was first published in February 2010. Cara has gone on to develop several new SnoozeShade products including a version for use on car seats, a twin-buggy version and a SnoozeShade for cots. Her products are available nationwide through high-street retailers including John Lewis, Mothercare, Tesco, Boots and Asda. They are also available internationally. Cara has suppliers in several European countries as well as countries worldwide including America, Canada, China and Australia.

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