This article was originally posted on the Tech North website.
When Ami Davies lost sight of her three-year-old daughter momentarily in Primark, she turned the panic and helplessness she felt into a business idea. Yet while the need for a tech solution to the parental problem was clearly there, she struggled to find the right investment, had problems with manufacturing and ended up working several part-time jobs to fund her dream.
Three years on, she retains a steely determination to see her product come to market and demonstrate to daughter Jaymie, now six, what women can achieve in tech.
Davies’s idea for a safety product that could be worn by children came after Jaymie wandered behind some clothes rails while the pair were out shopping. “She was literally within a couple of yards of me but to me she was lost and it seemed like a really long time until I found her,” she says. “At the time I’d been looking for ideas for a business because I’d been off with Jaymie for a couple of years and I’d started to lose my confidence.”
The following months were spent visiting parent and child groups researching the need for such a product for those aged five and under. Although most said they didn’t believe children should be tracked, 90 percent admitted they had turned around to find their youngsters gone and experienced the same panic as Davies.
The My Little Explorer wristband was born. It’s a Bluetooth device that alerts parents via an app if their child strays out of a pre-set boundary. While Davies initially secured £30,000 investment from business angel John Atkinson to set up her business, which is based at Gateshead International Business Centre, she later found funding for the next growth stage difficult.
“I spent time calling people, telling them I was a mum and I had this idea based on parent and child separation, but I found the majority of funds sought B2B opportunities rather than B2C,” she says.
Determined not to be beaten, she embarked on more research with the likes of theme parks and football clubs – places children were likely to become lost – and teamed up with students at Northumbria University to develop the concept.
Eventually she secured another £60,000 to build prototypes – but not before having to learn how to become ‘investment ready’.
“I did a lot of detailed research and then had to bring it to a level where I could communicate it in a succinct and formal manner, and, when you’re not used to operating a business, it can be difficult to differentiate between the different business terms – I was also picked up on my grammar and syntax,” she says. “Then there’s finding the right investors. They need to be the right stage, the right skill set and the right background in terms of their sector knowledge and experience.”
Trusting your gut
Other problems came in finding people to work with. Not coming from a tech background, Davies found she was being guided by those she saw as the experts when, in fact, she perhaps should have trusted her gut instincts. The first version of the wristband was too chunky, while the second contained components that were unnecessary. The finishing touches are being made to the product ready for launch this year.
“I’m no Apple or Google and I don’t have millions to throw at this, so developing a business can be quite tough,” she says. “I’m quite a confident person but being around people with a lot of experience made me question myself. In hind sight my gut instinct was right because I know my business better than anybody else.”
Up to now, Davies has delved into her own savings, sold her car and taken only a small salary from the business. While developing My Little Explorer, her relationship broke down and she had to take several part-time jobs last year to make ends meet.
The best experience
Despite all the challenges, she describes the last three years as “the best experience.” She chose part-time jobs such as retail merchandising, to gain experience that will benefit her in the long run.
She has also received invaluable support from North East Business and Innovation Centre, North East Support Agency, RTC North and Gateshead International Business Centre, she says. However, initial support from her local council was difficult because she didn’t have a business plan at that early stage.
“Things don’t happen quickly, they don’t always go to plan and you have to sacrifice a lot,” she says, adding that she has also been involved in the Big PIE Friday Challenge, a STEM competition for primary school children in the North East. “I feel like I’ve lost a lot but I’ve gained significantly more. My goal has never been driven by finance, it’s driven by self-worth and being excited every single day of my life.
“When my daughter was four she told the staff at her nursery that she was writing a business plan. The most amazing part of this for me, even if I don’t get it off the ground, is that I hope to inspire my child and other people.”
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