IN this week's SME Focus, two veterans of the building trade explain how the downturn that hit the sector in 2008 prompted them to set out on a potentially lucrative journey of discovery.
Scott Wallace and Billy Mitchell.
Age? 49 and 59.
What is your business called?
Smart Compliance Ltd.
Where is it based? Bellshill.
What does it produce, what service does it offer?
A carbon monoxide detector that we believe is unique in the worldwide marketplace. It alerts people inside buildings to potential danger and also communicates externally from the location it is installed, to warn people outside the premises. Those inside could be and often are unaware of any presence of carbon monoxide. CO (carbon monoxide) is called the silent killer and rightly so. It is odourless, invisible and undetectable by human senses.
Our unit self-checks weekly and sends a text to your mobile phones to confirm it is working and that there are no hidden dangers of CO in the premises. Similarly it also reports if it is faulty, requires a battery change or if it has been tampered with. If there is deadly CO in the premises, it contacts multiple phones or mobile devices. It enables landlords to ensure health and safety compliance without having to gain access to a property.
What is its turnover?
We are currently pre revenue, having just completed our beta testing with 15 units reporting live for a period of 18 months from as far afield as Portugal, London and Central Scotland. We recently received our first batch of units from the factory. The product will launch in the second quarter of 2014.
How many employees?
Billy and I are majority shareholders. We have a business administrator Danielle Neagle and envisage taking on approximately six sales and admin staff in the next year or so.
When was it formed?
We were granted a full patent in December 2010 and we immediately set up Smart Compliance Ltd to commercialise the product. We have been on a very steep learning curve looking at electronics, industrial design as well as mobile communications and software design.
One of the key features of the Patent is that it covers any gas particulate which means that the product family is enormous.
Why did you take the plunge?
We decided it was a good business opportunity. Carbon Monoxide is called the silent killer. There are 50 deaths per year in the UK along with 200 serious injuries and 4000 visits to hospitals or doctors surgeries. The NHS estimates that it takes six consultations before a diagnosis of carbon monoxide poisoning is given because the symptoms are very like flu.
What were you doing before you took the plunge?
Scott and I have worked together for 20 years or so, in the specialist side of construction, building services, mostly with large corporate organisations such as Amec and Balfour Beatty.
When the world changed in 2008/2009, hitting the construction industry with some force, we had the opportunity to set up our own building services business, Smart Systems Scotland, concentrating on high end retail and commercial fit outs with clients such as House of Fraser, Gucci, Prada, Chanel and Armani. We have built on that niche with repeat business since then. The business has £500,000 turnover.
When we received the patent for the CO detector we decided to split our time between both businesses which we still do to this day.
How did you raise the start-up funding?
Our own funding initially and time commitment. A very knowledgeable and helpful projects management team in Scottish Enterprise were extremely supportive in helping us to secure some SE funding within its "Innovation Pipeline" and we also secured an SE Smart Award to develop the next generation of the product.
In 2013, our accountants Sharles introduced Billy and I to our investors TRICap, who along with Scottish Enterprise Scottish Co-Investment Fund concluded an investment deal in excess of £200,000 in 2013.
What was your biggest break?
Being granted the full patent. We submitted the patent application after hearing how a large social landlord had extreme difficulty in accessing houses to carry out their legal obligation of checking gas appliances annually.
We thought that the biggest risk was carbon monoxide poisoning and set out to design a device that could take the information to them if they couldn't access the house. It has cost £30,000 to secure the patent.
What do you most enjoy about running the business?
Meeting nice, creative people. We have worked with and been supported by really innovative and exciting Scottish companies and some super people in Scottish Universities.
What do you least enjoy?
We are enjoying the whole journey and every day is a school day.
What is your biggest bugbear?
People not being on the same wavelength in terms of meeting a deadline.
What are your ambitions for the firm?
To leave a legacy of an excellent business, employing, coaching and teaching local people.
We want to be a one-stop resource centre for everything to do with carbon monoxide and an authority on the subject.
Not only do we want to sell our unit to the marketplace, we also want to educate people in the dangers of CO.
What are your top five priorities?
Marketing our product; making our first sale; being first to market with this unique product; conducting pilot tests with local authorities/housing associations; raising awareness nationally of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.
What could the Westminster and/or Scottish Governments do that would help?
Corporation tax rates should be framed within a band for early stage companies which would assist start-ups like Smart Compliance.
Governments need to make the accessibility of public information easier to SMEs and be faster and clearer with their response.
We have had good experiences regarding Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Co -Investment fundraising early stage funding and it would be helpful to SMEs if there was a mechanism to access later stage funding more readily.
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned?
It takes time when working with creative people and we need to have patience when they don't happen to work at our pace.
How do you relax?
We both enjoy our dogs. Billy has a wheaten Scottie called Morag, I have two miniature Schnauzers, Oscar and Ollie.
We both have grandsons and are excited to watch and be part of their development and growth. When not working we are both very family orientated.