The Stevie Awards Blog

The Glue for Popular Consumer Products is the Users

Posted by Maggie Gallagher on Wed, Jan 16, 2019 @ 04:04 PM

Even early in the development process, Irish inventor Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh believed she was onto something special: a moldable glue that sticks to virtually any surface and forms a strong, rubber-like material overnight.

With the help of entrepreneur Roger Ashby, she launched FormFormForm Ltd. (based in London, England) and started marketing her flexible new product, dubbed “Sugru,” to retailers in 2009. The challenge was convincing big-box stores they needed yet another glue product on their crowded shelves.

Ni Dhulchaointigh, though, had a compelling way to show just how versatile her product was: thousands of user-generated YouTube videos and pictures on the company’s website. The company even devised a Twitter hashtag (#MySugruFix) for customers to share their creative solutions.

sugru

There’s the homeowner who resealed his torn swimming pool liner, the guy who fixed his tattered laptop charger, and even an adventurer who used the silicone-based glue on his ski poles during a trek in the Arctic Circle. In one case, a motorcycle enthusiast used Sugru to stick a camera on his helmet, which he used to film his journey on the open road. To stimulate participation, the company provides discounts to the most impressive social media submissions.

The uniqueness of the product—a pliable glue that can withstand moisture and extreme temperatures and cling to any number of surfaces—was a powerful selling point, but the social media strategy helped showcase Sugru’s usefulness in tackling a broad range of everyday projects. What’s more, it created much-needed buzz around the adhesive during its start-up phase.

Over the past few years, the company’s customer base has swelled. To date, the company has sold more than 14 million single-use packs of Sugru to people in over 175 countries and territories worldwide. Time magazine went so far as to include it on their “50 Best Inventions of 2010” list (12 spots ahead of the iPad.)

“Start Small, and Make It Good”

The idea for Sugru dates back to 2003, when Ni Dhulchaointigh was working toward a master’s degree in product design at the Royal College of Art in London, England. Rather than attempting to develop a whole new product, she decided to work on something that could extend the lives of things people already owned.

Her first prototype for a moldable glue—a substance she describes as foul smelling and slimy—was well short of the mark. She was convinced, however, the idea itself was valuable.

“I knew that by tapping into people’s innate creativity, all kinds of products could be fixed and reimagined,” she writes.

In addition to hiring Ashby, she enlisted two former Dow Corning scientists who served as consultants on her project. Ni Dhulchaointigh set up a small lab to help refine the formula, and she relied on family and friends to provide real-world feedback.

“The company motto has always been to start small and to make it good,” she says.

In 2009, she offered samples to several journalists. When one of them gave the product a glowing review on a popular U.K. news site, it turned the company’s fortunes around immediately. The first product run sold out in a mere six hours. More importantly, she and her business partner, Ashby, started to gain interest from investors who could help them ramp up the operation.

Eventually, the company won over product buyers from national chains, such as Target and the Container Store, moving the entrepreneur closer to her lofty goal of getting Sugru into every kitchen drawer.

The company’s tinkering didn’t stop with its original product, though. FormFormForm Ltd., which now employs a team of 70 people, later introduced a family-safe formula that’s gentle enough for even younger users to try. This latest iteration also proved a winner, earning the 2018 Bronze Stevie® Award for New Consumer Product.

Ni Dhulchaointigh hopes the ability to get kids involved will lead to even more creative ideas for users to share on platforms like YouTube and Twitter.

“Repair inspires creativity," she says. "People are more creative than they think, especially when it comes to saving things they love—and potentially some money at the same time.”

Tags: new products, company awards

Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality Apps Are Changing the Fashion World

Posted by Maggie Gallagher on Fri, Jan 04, 2019 @ 05:07 PM

There is a tech side to just about every industry, including fashion. It goes beyond purchasing a new favorite sweater on Amazon. Today, you can scroll through Instagram, click on a photo, zoom in to see a product, and buy it with one click.

AI technology is even finding its way into traditional store shopping. You can go to a store and take a picture of a shirt, pants, or a jacket—and using one of several apps, such as Kim Kardashian’s Screenshop app, you can upload the picture and find similar styles and products all over the world. There are even avatar-based apps, such as Dressing Room, that allow individuals to try on clothing virtually. When ready, you can pay for the item with Apple Pay, which is located in your smartphone’s digital wallet.

joorLike any industry, the bottom line drives fashion-related businesses, and technological advances are constantly challenging that bottom line. However, the data points collected from searches and purchases are narrowing the gap between product supply and demand, meaning product numbers are more accurate, and fewer materials are wasted. Data are also helping companies predict trends and provide products their customers actually like and want.

As with most business verticals, the fashion industry maintains wholesale production intermediaries. JOOR is one of those companies leading the digital wholesale charge, using analytics within the fashion vertical. Their digital platform connects buyers and sellers online, helping buyers save time and cut costs and leading sellers to better analyze the performance of their inventory.

The company’s model embraces the global shift to mobile-first access and capitalizes on the ease and convenience of streaming handheld devices. Digitizing streamlines the fashion buyer’s process, and as is typically the case when digital technology is implemented, this reduces errors and saves time. The success of JOOR was recognized with a Stevie® Award in Best New Software Product or Service Category.

JOOR was founded in 2010 and is based in New York City, New York, United States. CEO Kristin Savilia is at the helm. She came on board in March 2017 and brought with her 18 years of retail experience and over five years in e-commerce with XO Group (the parent company of popular websites The Bump, The Nest, and The Knot). Even in the hustle and bustle of a technology-driven fashion industry, Savilia—a proactive mother of four—strives for a positive work-life balance.

While she helped lead JOOR to the head of the fashion AI and VR app curve, more technological changes are on the horizon. NextWeb reports the world is ready for the Internet of Things (IoT).

“Apparel items will have digital capabilities that open communication between retailer and customer, such as NADI X, yoga pants with built-in sensors that guide users into alignment by vibrating as they move through the various yoga poses. This example and other IoT apparel items interact with the user to collect data that help retailers understand the needs and concerns of buyers, and then companies can implement solutions to create a more personalized experience.”

In this landscape, individuals will be able to interact with businesses through their yoga pants, informing the companies that made them what they liked best and least. This will allow the companies to make more of those kinds of pants or to offer improved versions, depending on feedback.

That is technology and fashion coming full circle. Try clothes on a virtual reality avatar, search AI apps for any and all styles you like, and then communicate with the product and company directly using the IoT. Companies analyze the data, and the technological personalization and product customization cycle evolves.

In the long run, this seems cost effective and efficient while reducing waste—but it remains to be seen if consumers want to wear yoga pants and other products with AI sensors. Many consumers, however, already talk to Siri (Apple) and Alexa (Amazon), so it might not be too long before this is the product norm.

Tags: female entrepreneurs, company awards

Despite Long Odds, Young Entrepreneur Makes Allergy-Friendly Food a Winner

Posted by Maggie Gallagher on Thu, Jan 03, 2019 @ 11:07 AM

As recently as 2014, just about everyone (other than Julianne Ponan) doubted her fledgling health food brand would survive—let alone find widespread distribution throughout Europe.

As the owner of Creative Nature, a UK-based company specializing in allergy-friendly vegan snacks and baking mixes, Ponan staked her fortunes on a crowdsourcing effort aimed at raising £150,000 of capital. However, the attempt to capture investors fell well short of the mark.

The failed fundraising campaign was the latest in a series of setbacks for the company, which was losing money at a fast clip. Three years earlier, a 22-year-old Ponan, then working as a financial analyst, was brought in to diagnose why Creative Nature was operating in the red.

creative natureAt the time, the company marketed a wide range of products, from home goods to natural food products. The latter gave Ponan hope. After all, she knew firsthand the importance of a carefully selected diet. The entrepreneur suffers from multiple food allergies to this day and survived two acute cases of pancreatitis as a young girl.

Ponan says doctors gave her four hours to live after diagnosing the first case of pancreatitis when she was nine. She lived, but it resurfaced at 17, when physicians gave her just a few short years to live.

“After beating it a second time, it still wasn’t smooth sailing,” she recalls. “I contracted pneumonia in my first year at Creative Nature.”

She ended up executing a management buyout of the London, England–area business in 2012, with the goal of growing the superfood segment. It wasn’t just her personal experience she banked on, though. She also saw the continent’s rising obesity levels and the increased prevalence of food allergies as proof this niche market was poised for growth.

The number of Europeans who suffer from chronic allergies tops 150 million, according to the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The group estimates half of the entire EU populace will be impacted by 2025.

“I took over Creative Nature to cater to people like me—people who want healthier snacks without the nasty additives,” she says.

Company Gets Its Big Break

With her business partner, Matthew Ford, the company started focusing on snack bars and baking mixes that were free from 14 of the most common food allergens.

“Most ‘healthy’ snack companies insist on filling their products with tree nuts, peanuts, and seeds, which completely ignores a whole consumer base of allergy sufferers,” Ponan says.

When the crowdsourcing plan turned south and it looked as if the whole enterprise might be a flop, the breakthrough finally came. Creative Nature captured the interest of a buyer at Tesco, a major UK supermarket chain. Virtually overnight, it seemed as if the company’s fortunes were turning around. Still, one major hurdle remained.

“Tesco wanted all our new packaging for launch in just four weeks. This normally would have taken eight weeks to produce,” she says. “Instead of telling them we couldn't launch, we bought self-adhesive labels and spent three weeks hand-labeling around 10,000 tubs—all while continuing to run the rest of the business.”

As it turned out, the two-person team made the launch and used the deal as a platform to propel themselves into more supermarkets. Today, the company, which now has six full-time employees, is stocked in more than 15 countries, including Switzerland and Denmark.

Because of the organization’s compelling turnaround, Ponan earned the Silver Stevie® Award for Young Female Entrepreneur of the Year.

“I’ve known about these awards since starting the business, always dreaming one day I would be able to win one,” she says. “I managed to walk away with a Silver Stevie, so I’m incredibly proud.”

Tags: womens awards, female entrepreneurs

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