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Firm keen to keep travellers comfortable is going places

IN this week's SME Focus a young entrepreneur tells how he and a friend turned a bright idea into a business with support from private and public sector players.

Name: Michael Corrigan

Age: 26

What is your business called?

The design company is called Coolside. At the moment we are focusing on the travel market, which is covered by our travel retail brand "Trtl" (pronounced turtle).

Where is it based? Glasgow

What does it produce?

With Trtl, we are creating a range of travel products. We strive to create well designed, real solutions that help to keep you comfortable and at ease when you're on-the-go while also being lean, and having very little impact on your hand luggage.

Our first product is the world's first napscarf, which we think provides more comfort and support than any travel pillow in the world, packs small and weighs no more than a muffin - so even Ryanair won't mind - and looks like a scarf when you wear it, so you look good.

Who does it sell to?

We are retailing online through our website. The product went on sale at a branch of the Excess Baggage chain in Heathrow airport last week, with more outlets in the UK to follow in March and we expect to be distributing into German airports by June.

What is its turnover?

We only began trading under Trtl in December and we made close to £10,000.

How many employees?

Just the two at the moment but we are looking to increase the size of the team over the next six months.

When was it formed?

Coolside was formed by my business partner David Kellock and myself in December 2010 when we received funding from The Prince's Trust to develop our initial idea.

Why did you take the plunge?

David and I have been close friends since the beginning of University and we always knew we wanted to do something a little different.

It was during the fourth year, when Sir Tom Farmer of Kwik Fit fame gave a speech to our engineering class that we knew we wanted to start a business.

This was a man who was truly living life; he had created something that he was proud of and because of his success, he was able to give back to and be a positive influence on the community around him.

We started attending a few events run by the Scottish Institute of Enterprise, where they occasionally held team competitions. This introduced us to a whole different world of thinking and we even did well in a couple of the competitions.

Towards the end of university, in the summer of 2010, they organised a week long 'bootcamp' which was a high level introduction to starting a business. We needed an idea to bring into it and being engineers, we wanted to use our design skills.

The weekend before it, we were brainstorming over a coffee and we had both recently been on holidays abroad. The conversation turned to travel pillows and we thought, "Let's create something new".

We learned a lot in the summer of 2010 and at the end of the bootcamp there was a pitching competition where David was runner-up - we won £250 which felt like £1,000,000 at the time. To generate more funds for the business, we both started jobs with the aim of putting most of our earnings into Coolside as well as developing the initial concepts in our spare time.

The development process wasn't easy, especially as we didn't have much money to spend. We had to learn quickly and we've 'bootstrapped' for the main part. Around 18 months ago, we discovered Entrepreneurial Spark and I decided it was time to leave my full-time job - David had already been working on Coolside full-time around three months prior to this. We were part of the original "hatchery" programme at ESpark's Glasgow office from August 2012 to July 2013. This had a hugely positive effect on the development of us as people and of the business.

There was a huge focus on pitching and going out into the real world to obtain the invaluable feedback you need, rather than guess what the customer wants. Now, when I walk into a room I know how to articulate what I do, whereas before I might have sheepishly rambled my way through an introduction. I have a much thicker skin when it comes to taking feedback. Constructive criticism is critical for a business and the people in that business to improve.

Three years, over 100 prototypes and a couple of embarrassing moments later, here we are with Trtl - which we believe is the beginning of something special.

For the first batch, we convinced a local seamstress to sew the pattern for the scarf and we made the rest of the product by ourselves. Now, as the volumes grow, we have outsourced the manufacturing to two local companies, based in the central belt of Scotland.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

After university, I worked for an oil company for two years and developed Coolside with David in my spare time.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

We have supplemented our own funds with public funding. Youth Business Scotland, part of the Prince's Trust, have been great and they helped us to access a loan through their Innovation Fund. We're also about to access more funding through the West of Scotland Loan Fund.

We won funding in the second round of the Scottish Government's Edge Awards in July of last year, which was a great achievement for us.

What was your biggest break?

Meeting Sir Richard Branson in Edinburgh when Virgin Atlantic launched their domestic service "Little Red" (last year). He really liked Trtl and put us in touch with the right people in the business.

We also met a lot of key people in the travel industry as well as his daughter, Holly, who was lovely to speak to.

What was your worst moment?

The product was originally called "Powernap" and we had to change this due to a trademark issue. This came when we were basically ready to launch and resulted in everything being delayed by a few months.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

It brings a colour to my day that I can't really explain, it is "Life in HD" and every day brings something new.

What do you least enjoy?

The daily administration.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

To become the best at creating products that make your journey, be it a long-haul flight or a short train ride, comfier and easier.

What are your top priorities?

To enjoy what we do; to gain strong coverage in retail outlets in the UK and Europe before moving into the US; to find someone who has created a business of scale in the same or a similar industry and to find the right people to bring into the company; to grow the company to a size where it begins to have a positive influence on the world around it.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

Organisations like Entrepreneurial Spark are critical to encouraging more people to think about starting their own business.

Initiatives like the SIE, which can show students that taking a graduate position isn't necessarily the answer, are also important.

There needs to be the right support for organisations like these to flourish.

It's also critical that the access to finance from public funding sources be made easier as well as the process being streamlined so it's less time consuming for the individual.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Absolutely make the most of the time you have and always trust your gut.

How do you relax?

I don't. I try to keep up with one TV show at a time so at the moment I'm a bit addicted to Breaking Bad.

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