After winning the “One to Watch” award at last year’s The Pitch, Gareth Bristow of talked to us about how his design background helped him develop his bike security business.
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RocPro is a company firmly set on innovation and problem solving. Headed up by consultant designer Gareth Bristow, the business went through various iterations, which saw them develop mechanical rotary designs that ultimately became marketed as cycle pump products, and eventually, security products.
Bristow used The Pitch 2013 to presented his idea for the Roc Nut – a security device for bicycles that employs multi-point security that aimed to not only secure the wheels, but the handlebars, brakes, and other accessories too.
The Pitch competition, if you need reminding, is presented by BusinessZone.co.uk and is for small business owners and involves the submission, and judging of businesses and their ideas by a panel before the business support prize package is awarded.
At the time of entering last year, RocPro had only just completed prototypes for some of the products, while others were in concept prototyping stages. Essentially, they yet to commence manufacturing a product, but confident in the idea, Bristow entered Roc Nut into The Pitch 2013's 'One to Watch' category.
"RocPro had only been a business entity for a few months before The Pitch 2013 final, and the event had been only the second pitch RocPro had undertaken," says Bristow.
"Entering a competition like The Pitch is an excellent opportunity to gauge peer and public response to the products. Responses both critical and positive can help in the refinement of a design and product."
The Roc Nut design eventually won the category and his prize included advice from event sponsor ICAEW. Furthermore, the judges were so impressed with his pitch at the event in Bristol that they went even further and listed the company as a finalist in the main competition. Though it was eventually won by biobean, a company that takes waste coffee grounds and turns them into fuel, Bristow’s well-received pitches and Q&As saw RocPro more than hold its own in the Pitch 2013 final.
Despite being invited to pitch again for the main event, Bristow found himself more relaxed second time around; "although I didn't expect this turn of events, as we had already won one competition, I figured I could enjoy this twist without any pressure!"
Roc, pumps, nuts – what does it all mean?
RocPro first started life as early as 2006 with a series of early reiterations and several patent applications between 2007 and 2012 that were based on Bristow’s Roc (which stands for Reciprocating Oscillating Coupling) design. It was found that this rotary system could be applied to pumping applications to improve efficiency.
While the mechanism itself is applicable to numerous concepts or industries, the decision to initially market it to the cycling world is down to Bristow’s existing enthusiasm for the sport.
"I was only too aware of the time and effort that is required to inflate a cycle tyre,” he explains. “Preliminary modelling and analysis of the new pump demonstrated that the new technology could halve the current time it takes to inflate tyres."
It’s this intricate knowledge of the target market and the innovative security approach of RocPro and its steps to counter theft that helped Bristow at The Pitch: "Luckily all of the questions from the judges - and there were a lot of questions - related to the market opportunities and costings that RocPro had thoroughly researched," he explains.
The company took further form in 2010 when Bristow invited Philip Pike to be a partner in Rodia Technologies Ltd – a holding company for intellectual property. The idea was to develop the commercial aspects of the patented device through this enterprise.
Pike, despite being a friend of over 20 years, was somewhat of a coup for the business thanks to his extensive and varied background that saw him work for both global suppliers and small start-ups dealing with high-tech instrumentation, alongside a healthy level of experience in the sales and marketing field.
As the hand pumps moved through their development and prototype phases, Pike and Bristow identified further avenues for development. "In particular, a major need to combat the 500,000 yearly cycle thefts in the UK," Bristow explains.
Bristow’s background is in drawing and designing which he has been doing since his teens which has resulted in him applying his talents to building, mechanical engineering, and graphical design. He says his passion for “form, function, and an enquiring mind” is what’s led him toward the foundations that formed RocPro.
"Until I started running my own business, I was rather risk averse and quite comfortable working as a senior designer and manager for larger organisations," says Bristow of his career development.
"However my determination to develop and control my own designs and products lead me to start my first design practice in 2008 and currently I am the creative director of a thriving design consultancy."
He says that his ability to "see through problems" and find solutions has helped him to design and patent new mechanical designs like the Roc Nut has a cognitive extension of his design skills.
Following the successful prototype development stage, the company started looking to retailers and distributors for the pumps and security products. While Bristow described some meetings as providing "enthusiastic responses", he notes that he has learned distributers require exceptionally strong branding from several complementary products in order to achieve sufficient market penetration and sales.
"It has always been anticipated that further cycle products would be developed and my design practice had already started working up several designs for robust cycle security devices that would be marketed under the RocPro brand," explains Bristow.
As a result of The Pitch, Bristow has been able to build up a wealth of new business contacts, and of course, the exposure hasn’t been too shabby either: “It has been a great few months since competing in The Pitch, we won an international design award for the RocPump, been awarded a place at Southampton Science Park's Catalyst Centre, secured a stand at Venturefest in Bristol, and been semi-finalists in the NESTA 'Hands off my Bike' Challenge," Bristow reveals.
“We anticipate that RocPro will join Southampton University's Setsquared Business Acceleration Centre in 2014, to help move the project further quickly and have a completed product range ready for retail before the summer.”
And not only is the business moving incredibly fast, they're already planning to diversify and move beyond cycling - in the next 12 months RocPro is hoping to work on the core actuator technology to open it up for several robotic and medical uses in the near future.
"These opportunities have now grown into the RocPro brand," Bristow concludes.
If you are a UK-based small business that’s been trading for under 3 years, or have a brilliant business idea, then why not enter The Pitch 2014! Not only is there a fantastic prize package up for grabs but you will have the chance to network, learn and improve your pitching skills.