When innovative business ideas get a ‘no’ from the panel on TV’s Dragon’s Den, it usually means the end of the road for any invention.
And, with 90% of new firms failing in the first three years, it is not surprising that, after such a decision, many hopefuls flee the Den back to the world of work, leaving their dreams behind.
One of the few exceptions to that rule is Trunkie, a travel suitcase for children which was slammed by the ‘dragons’, but which has gone on to be a global success and is now a multi-million pound business.
Another example is Manchester-based Discrete Heat, a business that has been built steadily from scratch and which is similarly making its mark, despite disinterest from the TV investors.
The company, which was one of the finalists in the 2014 Building Better Healthcare Awards, manufactures an innovative skirting board that doubles up as a radiator.
Now selling in more than 20 countries globally, the innovation, known as ThermaSkirt, is increasingly being noticed by the health and social care sector, with the firm recently securing its biggest single contract to date with a national care home builder.
Following a chance meeting with a leading NHS infection control specialist, the company took a fork in the road that has proven to be a real winner.
We had been growing the business since we got the boot from Dragons Den, but with a general recession in the housing market, it had been steady rather than spectacular. Then we did an install for Manchester Royal Infirmary and we discovered a whole new marketplace
Martin Wadsworth, managing director and Dragons Den survivor, said: “We had been growing the business since we got the boot from Dragons Den, but with a general recession in the housing market, it had been steady rather than spectacular.
“Then we did an install for Dr Barzo Faris, microbiologist at Manchester Royal Infirmary and we discovered a whole new marketplace.”
Dr Faris recognised that replacing conventional radiators with a slim, sealed skirting board unit could reduce the risk of infections such as C.Difficile and MRSA, which typically hide and breed in the warm, dusty spaces behind the radiators.
Dr Faris suggested the company developed the ThermaSkirt product further to best suit the needs of the demanding healthcare sector, and especially the NHS.
The result was the ‘EasyClean’ version of its popular residential skirting heating system.
The EasyClean has been a real find for us, and the finished look and performance just superb. As a result we are specifying it on all future projects
Having been installed and tested in four NHS facilities including Trafford General and North Tees hospitals, the EasyClean system has trumped other forms of heating including radiators and underfloor heating.
The system has now gained national recognition by the NHS procurement programme, ProCure21+. This means the EasyClean system is now included on the specification for all P21+ projects, which have a combined annual spend of over £2billion.
The product has also been specified by one of the country’s leading providers of assisted living apartments for persons with physical and learning disabilities.
With more than 400 one-bed units planned every year for the next five years, the deal with HB Villages is another major step change for Discrete Heat.
Neil Mackrell, project manager for HB Villages, said: “The EasyClean has been a real find for us, and the finished look and performance just superb. As a result we are specifying it on all future projects.”
Wadsworth added: “With confirmed orders with HB Villages and the projects with the NHS, we’re expecting well over £1m a year for the next five years – and probably more. The potential in healthcare, mental health and assisted living is huge, and we have developed the perfect product for it – if only by accident. Sometimes you need to hang on in there and get lucky.”
Discrete Heat now employs 25 people at its factory in Atherton, Greater Manchester, and also has offices in Rostock, Germany; Perth and Melbourne, Australia; and Poznan Poland.