Author Archive Chris Swift

ByChris Swift

On-Demand Manufacturing for Adaptive Products

You’ve got an idea for a new widget that will make your own or someone else’s life easier. But how do you get from idea to reality? On demand manufacturing might be the answer.

Hopefully the design for adaptive products emerges from the end-user/customer requirements and in close consultation with the customer. Adaptive products are often either bespoke or customisable and likely to be low volume in production. So how to produce a one-off or low volume adaptive product?

The last 10-15 years have seen an acceleration in the development and availability of low-cost or open source online 3-D design packages which are increasingly intuitive and simple to use. A wealth of YouTube tutorials can help a novice to quickly begin creating basic parts and shapes. From then on it’s the basic Lego mentality; create the bricks and put them together.

Now obviously it isn’t that easy for everyone to train themselves in 3-D modelling and create the parts they want to make, but it is becoming more and more accessible.

In combination with this, there are an increasing number of suppliers who will perform services such as metal plasma/laser cutting, wood laser cutting, 3-D printing in a variety of plastics and CNC machining processes. The suppliers will often work directly from 3-D models emailed across to them and will be happy to advise on materials, processes and tolerances. If you are happy with your drawings then they can create exactly what you send them directly from your files. There is no need to be geographically close to the supplier and your finished parts will be dispatched to you by courier.

The benefit of all these advances is that disabled innovators and makers now have access to complex industrial processes to make exactly the parts they need. This might be a big project like a new mobility solution, or maybe a small project like a bracket to hold your mobile phone. Whatever it is, it will make your life easier. And you can get exactly what you want without waiting for someone else to create it.

ByChris Swift

“A four-wheel mountain bike.”

You can’t think of this as a wheelchair, this is a four-wheel mountain bike. It just so happens that it can be used by wheelchair user.

So said downhill racing pioneer and legend Stacy Kohut from an Internet video I watched in the early 00’s. And 20 years later, perhaps we are seeing that change of attitude finally go mainstream with bikes like the Bowhead Reach (despite the fact it only has 3 wheels).

Racers like Stacy, John Davies and Team Phoenix; adventurers like Jean-François Porret and engineers like John Castellano and Bill Grove were my inspiration in the late 90s and early 00’s.

In my opinion the Cobra and DH-X1 downhill chairs together with the One-off Titanium hand cycle trike are game changing pieces of adaptive equipment. They Kickstarted a new world of outdoor access, sport and leisure, and as a new wheelchair user I could see there was more than just a powered wheelchair in my future. Thank God for the Internet.

And thank God for the growth in mountain biking, both in terms of the technical advances in suspension, transmissions, brakes and tyres, and in terms of the extensive infrastructure of managed trails, facilities, publications and community. Mountain biking is now a lifestyle and leisure activity open to everyone, regardless of ability. Pure downhill wheelchair riding is spectacular, but also tricky to access and likely very daunting to a new rider. But developments in electric motor and battery technology mean that you can get similar thrills without the need of a mountainside.

All-terrain trikes from Sport-On, Recreative and more recently the Bowhead Reach build on the legacy of the One-off Titanium trike and give riders a more “bike like” experience. Riding with friends.

Trikes like the Reach are featured in everyday mountain bike publications. Adaptive all-terrain hand bike videos receive millions of  views on YouTube. It seems that change in attitude that Stacy was talking about 20 years ago is finally happening. You can’t think of these machines as wheelchairs; they are just four (or three) wheel mountain bikes.

 

ByChris Swift

Know Your Strengths to Succeed

I recently read an article about Helen Cooke, founder of MyPlus Consultancy.

There is a great quote from Helen on her website. “I don’t believe I am any more special than anyone else, but I do believe my disability has given me something extra”.

It is this “something extra” that Helen tirelessly talks to organisations about helping them to realise the advantages and strengths of attracting and recruiting disabled employees, including graduates.

This approach really caught my attention and seemed such a positive spin on disability; that the circumstances that set you apart from non-disabled people also contribute to your strengths. The key, it seems, is to recognise what your strengths are and put them forward.

When starting your own business you are more than often selling yourself as much as you are selling your business idea. Whether it is negotiating a business loan or pitching for investment, decision-makers are deciding whether you can do what you say you’re going to do. Do they feel you have the skills and experience to carry out your business plan?
Rightly or wrongly; it is up to you to sell yourself and your strengths and this is particularly crucial as a disabled entrepreneur.

You need to be aware of your strengths and to pre-empt any concerns straight off; to accentuate how your unique abilities will contribute to making your dream happen.

I was thrilled to be asked to contribute my story to the “Faces of MyPlus” and I would recommend that you take time to read the background to MyPlus Consultancy.

ByChris Swift

Learn By Doing

“To know what to do is wisdom. To know how to do it is skill. But doing it, as it should be done, tops the other two virtues.” Learning what to do and how to do it; reading online articles, taking courses, following blogs can provide you with valuable information; but is there any substitute for taking that first business start-up step for yourself?

There is of course much to be gained by learning from the experiences of others and the knowledge they can pass on to you from further along the business learning curve. As well as imparting valuable information, possible contacts and processes that you can apply to your own business, learning and research is often a catalyst for further inspiration and ideas. Something to drive you forward. Perhaps you can see a new way of doing things by modifying existing management within your own organisation?

It can be useful to not only grasp the business basics, but also to understand the importance of applying what you’ve learned, whether it is concerned with people management or product promotion and marketing. And in order to apply what you’ve learned you need to take that first step and start your business.

Once you are on your way you will find that every day you need to solve problems and learn new things. Indeed, this is one of the great things; the most exciting aspects of running your own business. My experience has shown that the small business world is generally extremely supportive with a lot of help available once you establish a network within your chosen industry/area. There will be people out there with time to talk and something useful and helpful to say.

Of course there will be some things that no research can prepare you for. The harder edges of managing people; the inevitable grumpy customers; the emotional stresses and financial strains that lead you to really question the courage of your convictions.

Ultimately, it’s all about a good combination. Have the idea. Arm yourself with business basics for your plan together with as much relevant research as possible. Start to gather your network of contacts. And go for it.

“Individuals ‘wishing they could’ are certain to be passed by those ‘thinking they can.”

ByChris Swift

Greatest Business Start-up Movie?

Something light-hearted for the 2017 Christmas holiday season; What is the greatest business start-up movie?

Inspiration comes from many sources. More than once I’ve heard business owners over a few beers quote a particular movie that motivated them along the start-up path. It’s unlikely to be the primary catalyst for quitting your job and starting out alone, but it can perhaps rattle around in the subconscious.

A quick Google search of “Business Movies” leads swiftly to the IMDb top 50 Greatest Business Movies and there some films you would expect to see in the list. “Wall Street” is up there; great movie but based around the stock exchange, rather than small business start-ups. There are plenty of sales focused titles “Glengarry Glen Ross“, “Thank you for smoking” and “Boiler Room” to name a few. Interpersonal relationships within any organisation can be pretty well summed up by “12 Angry Men“.
The worries surrounding globalisation and the financial crash of 2008 are represented by movies like “99 homes“, “the Corporation“, “Margin Call” and “Inside Job“.
But small business start-ups?

Jerry Maguire” has come up more than once in pub discussions on motivating movies to get out on your own and is in the IMDb top 50 Business Movies at number 44. Also pleased to see comedy “Office Space” getting some appreciation at number 22.  For me the most exciting part of “the Social Network” is the first 40 minutes or so when the fledgeling Facebook is first brought into existence from a few PCs in a student bedroom. Inspiring for anyone.

I’m shocked to report that the greatest small-business start-up movie of all time doesn’t get a listing. A film that answers all the big questions:

What inspired you to start your own business? Taking a chance with a new idea? A change in circumstance? What about that feeling when you found your first premises; did you know they were right for you?
And what about employing staff? Did you treat them well?

So for your festive viewing, a few clips to demonstrate that GhostBusters is, in my humble opinion, the greatest real-life small business start-up movie ever made.

All the best for a successful 2018.

ByChris Swift

Take that Leap

Committing to your own business is a leap of faith. Faith in your spreadsheet calculations. Faith in your predictions of market and consumer behaviour. Faith in the ability of you and perhaps your team to pull off your grand plan.

It is this leap into the unknown that thrills, exhilarates and makes you get out of bed every morning and work until midnight. In short, it’s all part of the good stuff entrepreneurs thrive on.

That said, that leap of faith can also be extremely daunting. For some there will be a safety net in the form of other opportunities or other incomes. For others it can mean putting everything on the line for both themselves and their families. And don’t forget it can get lonely at midnight in the office, or travelling around the country to meetings, or taking negative feedback from a customer. So why do we do it?

It’s been said many times that financial reward isn’t a good motivator. Of course a financial return of your investment of time, blood, sweat and tears is extremely welcome, but perhaps not why you took that leap in the first place.

You take that leap because you believe in your idea and in the plan. Because you have faith in your self and in your team. And because you know in your heart that it’s the right thing to do.

And in terms of payoff; there’s nothing better than finding out that you made the right call.

ByChris Swift

Mentoring

As a business owner or Managing Director you know that nobody understands your business like you do. And you’d be right. So what can a Mentor bring?

As the business owner you know that nobody understands your business like you do. And you’d be right. As a Managing Director you are completely in touch with the day-to-day running of the business and focused on keeping it moving forwards. You believe you have a depth of knowledge gained by hard experience. And you’d be right.

So what value can a Mentor bring?

A Mentor can offer advice and their experience on particular business challenges and opportunities.

Working with a Mentor can give you the chance to pause, take a breath, and review your business with an invaluable new perspective.

My focus as a Mentor is to first ensure I understand the business aims and operation and sometimes more importantly, the people involved. This should involve understanding the strengths and capabilities of all team members.

The next focus is to bring together an action plan based on where the business wants to go, and including roles and responsibilities of team members to move it forward.

By drawing on my experience and network of contacts I can contribute to solutions and plans that will make a real difference to your business.

 

ByChris Swift

Business & Research

My main interests and experience are:

Supporting and encouraging others to innovate and start small businesses.

Research and development of engineering solutions in the areas of outdoor mobility products, personal mobility and disability lifestyle equipment.

Current projects include:

Development of a new handlebar control/steering system for individuals with no hand function and limited and strength.

Development of a novel all terrain accessible electric mobility device.

Business Experience.

Founder and Director of Molten Rock Equipment Ltd throughout its 10 years trading from 2006. Molten Rock was a manufacturer and retailer of specialist mobility equipment.

Growing the company from living room to SME employing five full-time staff.

Securing private equity finance to grow the business through Angel networks and investment groups.

Previous projects include:

Investigation of powered wheelchair ride comfort.

Off-road mobility for physically disabled wheelchair users.

Countryside access for individuals with a physical disability.