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Eight Questions for the 'Final 8' - Michael Korn

Sun, 06 November 2011

In the run up to the 2011 Shell LiveWIRE Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, we will be profiling each of the finalists to give you some background on their entrepreneurial journey so far. Meet Michael Korn from Kwickscreen.
Can you give us some background on how your business got started?
I became inspired to create a solution to help hospitals make better use of their space whilst studying for my Master’s at the Royal College of Art.  I was researching problems in hospitals and spending time in wards to better understand the situation – the first version of KwickScreen became my final year project. Whilst doing the project I realised the full potential of the product – as the most portable, retractable, easy to clean medical room divider available, and that it also had multiple applications in other markets – so much so that once I graduated, I decided not to take a job but to work on getting KwickScreen tested in the marketplace and then into production.  We are now successfully selling into hospitals and believe we have an exciting future, broadening our sales base into international health care, schools, offices and conference centres with the product and its derivatives.
What has been the biggest barrier you have overcome to get this far?
The biggest barrier that we have had to face is the time it takes to get KwickScreen adopted into hospitals.  Even though all the evidence was there that it was a great product providing the required solution – matrons would register their interest early and want to buy them for their wards – it still took a great deal of time and hard work to persuade hospital managers to unlock the budget to buy them.  We have seen first-hand a number of hospitals that have undergone costly rebuild projects and are now kicking themselves knowing they could have achieved a better situation at a fraction of the cost using KwickScreen.  Now we’ve got a good track record in healthcare (35 NHS trusts, care homes and dentists now have KwickScreens for various uses) it should be much easier to introduce KwickScreen to new markets at home and abroad.
How has Shell LiveWIRE helped you on your journey?
Shell LiveWIRE has helped in a number of ways: being able to connect with the online community has been a great asset, the advice guides and downloads available through the Business Library section have been invaluable.
Now, the prestige of making the ‘Final 8’ of the Shell LiveWIRE award has been a great marketing tool for us as Shell is such a globally recognisable brand. Through the competition we were put in touch with the PR company used by Shell, who showed us great hospitality and gave us some great advice as to how to market our story.
We are proud to be associated with this competition as our company is all about fostering a spirit of entrepreneurialism and we are hoping to continue to hire new young British entrepreneurs attracted to a successful start-up.
What has been the best bit of advice you’ve received on your entrepreneurial journey?
Only once you’ve actually done something can you really understand it: this philosophy is encapsulated by the phrase ‘Shoot. Aim. Fire.’  I believe this is the order in which an entrepreneur does things and this order is important – doing something first and then evaluating it and learning from it afterwards.  As an entrepreneur I believe you have to get stuck into what needs to be done and then learn how to do it better. You have to get used to doing lots of new things quickly – and often the best way to learn is to do – even if this means you don’t get it perfect the first time round, however, sometimes you stumble upon a completely new way of doing this, as everyone else is copying each other and assuming that there must be standard ways that things are done, made, explained etc.  In this way it not only helps to speed up learning, but also opens up more opportunities to be creative and unique.
Which entrepreneurs do you look to for inspiration?
I look to a variety of entrepreneurs past and present for inspiration. Some of the great British industrialists such as Brunel (Marc and Isambard) through to James Dyson have inspired me and I aspire to one day have a similar effect on British industry. Most of my heroes were engineers or scientists developing things to improve people’s lives, tangible products which can make a difference and revolutionise daily life. I believe in British manufacturing and hope to contribute towards a product-based renaissance to invigorate the UK economy. I would love to one day develop KwickScreen into the next Dyson or even Edison; a hothouse for UK innovation. 
What are you most looking forward to at Shell LiveWIRE LIVE! 2011?
I am looking forward to having the opportunity to meet and talk with so many other entrepreneurs with some truly fantastic ideas. The standard is high and, as such, it is a great honour to be in the ‘Final 8’. I will also be listening intently to the talks; in particular I am looking forward to Will King’s talk on how he developed from one product into a complete brand. I am sure whatever the result for us, it will be a real celebration of entrepreneurialism in the UK.
What will it mean to you and the business if you win?
Winning Shell LiveWIRE would be a great honour, and would give us the platform from which to take our business to the next level.  The prize would give us the funding we need to launch a nationwide campaign to promote our product throughout the NHS and then go on to break into other markets and gain more international sales. Our profile will be raised by winning, and we would take full advantage of all the PR that this would provide. It would also allow us to continue our work helping educate others on entrepreneurialism – we currently give talks to students at universities and schools but would love to be able to try and encourage others to follow their own entrepreneurial dreams by doing more talks and workshops where possible.
What do you think can be done to help entrepreneurs in the future?
Supporting entrepreneurs is inherently difficult because by definition entrepreneurs need to be self-sufficient, but there are a variety of areas where I am very grateful for the support I have received.  Incubators such as Design London provided us with premises and the opportunity of belonging to a community of start-ups which is great for support and advice. The chance to compete for prizes such as this one also helped a great deal – we won early funding through the Imperial College Business Plan competition and the Royal College of Art and Helen Hamlyn design prizes.  Most recently winning the James Dyson UK design award and becoming a Shell LiveWIRE finalist have really helped boost our profile and have given us the confidence to keep expanding.  As well as giving advice, the NHS, through a government-run scheme, bought our initial product – so instead of giving money or advice they committed to buying.  We have then sold every prototype made.  As such, we have not yet had to apply for any funding and being completely independent has contributed a great deal to our success to date.