As Robert Burns famously wrote, ‘the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley’– a phrase which certainly rings true when it comes to business.

No matter how much groundwork you do, there is always the possibility that events outwith your control can wreak havoc with plans and force you right back to square one.

That’s exactly what happened to Iain Steven. A marine engineer by trade, he had been working in the offshore oil and gas industry when he saw a gap in the market for changes that could improve the efficiency of vessel operations.

He worked tirelessly to plan out his ideas, working on intellectual property design and getting his patents approved. Then, the slump in oil prices hit, with the consequence being a lack of investment in building new vessels. 

The time and effort that Iain had put in, he admits, ‘wasn’t going anywhere’.
But Mr Steven wasn’t prepared to give up. His business partner, Jacqueline Morrison, who runs engineering design firm Cedeco alongside Mr Steven, encouraged him to try to find a solution.“She said, ‘We’ve spent all this money on the IP, what else can we use it for? Can we modify it?’

“There was a competition at the time run by Scottish Power Renewables and the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult. So we took the basis of one of our designs, entered the competition and we won,” Mr Steven explains.

This design was centered around creating an alternative to grout, which is used to secure wind turbine jackets into piles in the sea bed. Grout is like cement and over time, with the wind and the wave forces, it has a tendency to crumble and crack, which leaves the turbine at risk of wobbling. 

Mr Steven’s concept eliminates the need for grouting, while significantly reducing the time taken to fit and secure the wind turbine jackets, making it a potentially transformative development in the renewables sector.  “It was about taking the patent that was for something that was completely different,” he explains, “but taking the principal, and using that for a different function.” 

As well as being adaptable, Mr Steven will requires patience to see his business idea come to fruition. Having worked on his design since the summer of 2018 when he won the competition, it will still be two years before a full-scale set of working prototypes can be installed into an offshore windfarm. 

After that, there will be monitoring in place to gather the required facts and figures that will enable the product to go to market – a milestone which is likely to take months more after the prototype is installed. 

This timeframe is made longer as Cedeco relies on grant funding. “We can’t apply for the next grant until we have all the results, which is what makes it a slow process. We are currently working within a nine-month grant but that’s been extended due to Covid-19.”

Pandemic-related upheaval is another hurdle that Mr Steven has had to deal with. An academic project he was working on was cancelled due to lockdown’s impact on the higher education sector, while staff from some of Cedeco’s key partners have been furloughed and then made redundant over the last few months.

But despite all the uncertainty, Iain has remained upbeat. “One of the benefits to come out of Covid-19 is working from home, it has actually worked out very well, so that’s been a bonus. It allows me to be more focused. Maintaining a positive attitude at times can be very hard, but I look at each day as a renewal. Try and leave the hard bits, or the difficult failure bits behind, and move on, don’t let them rule your life.”

Mr Steven’s business resilience has been helped, in part, by the advice afforded to him by the RBS Business Entrepreneur Accelerator programme. 
“The RBS Accelerator has assisted us, guided us, focusing particularly on the finance aspect of the business. I’m an engineer, so I don’t have any type of business academic background, basically just what I have picked up over the years. So the Accelerator has helped enormously with that.”

But after so many years spent in business, Mr Steven surely now has some advice of his own to pass on to the next generation of entrepreneurs?

“Do lots of market research, figure out if the demand for your product is actually there. If it is, then don’t give up, keep going and if you get the opportunity to participate in the likes of the RBS Accelerator then jump at it. Being in business can be a very frightening and lonely place, particularly when you have bills coming in and you have to work out how you are going to pay for things. So don’t be scared to ask for help.”