Thursday, 12 June 2008

Leeds Inventors Group 21-5-08 - Barry Haigh & Gregory Peck

This month’s meeting was a double-act by two experienced inventors – Barry Haigh, inventor of the “Baby Dream Machine” and Gregory Peck, inventor of security etching for car windows.

Barry began by describing his experiences with the “Baby Dream Machine” the baby-rocking device which found fame on “Dragons Den” and was previously discussed by Barry’s partner Graham Whitby at January’s Inventors Group meeting.

Trying to get an investor or manufacturer interested in a new product is always difficult. Barry initially followed the route which many inventors try – contacting all the major manufacturers. Mothercare were the first company Barry showed the “Baby Dream Machine” to and indicated that they were very interested. Naturally he got very excited and began dreaming of success. Mothercare kept it for a couple of months but then dropped it.

videoBarry demonstrates the Baby Dream Machine (press play to view)
Some companies were quite honest and said that if they don’t think of an idea themselves they’re not interested - they don’t take new ideas from outside the company. Some are simply not interested unless they’ve dealt with you before. It’s a vicious circle.

Having a “good idea” for a product is one thing, but it is only the start of the process. You have to be able to prove that it works, and of course with any products for children safety is critical. In this particular case it was important to ensure that the movement of the invention was sufficient to rock the child to sleep, and not vigorous enough to throw the child on the floor.

Having a good working prototype to demonstrate the invention can take time and money to develop. Barry’s view was that the prototype has to look good as well as working efficiently. Through Business Link he was able to get a grant and a connection with Hull University who worked on developing it.

Through meeting Graham Whitby and Gregory Peck and his appearance on “Dragons’ Den” (he pointed out that the grilling by the Dragons is actually very much longer than the few minutes you see in the actual programme) Barry eventually got his invention on the market.

Barry pointed out that patent protection can be very expensive – he himself has spent thousands of pounds on patents. Yet in spite of the costs and the frustrations, he still enjoys inventing.

Gregory came up with his first invention 40 years ago, and like Barry had interest from Mothercare who then decided not to follow it through. He later moved to Australia and it was there that he came up with the idea of security etching for car windows.

Commonly, stolen cars were painted a different colour to avoid detection and his invention was an attempt to overcome this. He applied for a patent himself as he couldn’t afford a patent agent. When he showed the product to others, the reaction was that it was too expensive.

He began selling it in petrol stations before trying his luck in the US on someone’s recommendation. It was several years before he made a breakthrough when a number of car dealers included window etching in the sale of their cars – adding the cost to the price of the car loan. Approval from the police and insurance companies followed and one Boston company stated that they would refuse to insure any vehicle which had not been etched.

This was followed up with a number of other successful vehicle security products. Gregory saw Barry and the “Baby Dream Machine” on “Dragons’ Den” and subsequently made contact with him. By this stage he had his own manufacturing contacts in China. He re-emphasised Barry’s point that most companies like dealing with people they know which is why many inventors fail when it comes to approaching companies. He himself has also occasionally been able to use his name (which a number of people have confused with the Hollywood star of the same name) to open doors!

In his opinion two of the most important things which he has learned are: Getting the price of the product right at an early stage is vital – if someone else can undercut you, you could be out of business. The second thing is that it’s a good idea to get two manufacturers – then if something goes wrong with one, you’ve still got the other to keep you going.

Gregory felt that it’s particularly difficult to get potential manufacturers in the UK interested in a new product – he had much more success elsewhere.