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Flashback to 2002: Catching up with Troy Baker

Mon, 17 December 2012

In 2002 Caroline Hulley and Troy Baker were in the Wales final of the Shell LiveWIRE Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award with their business, Design Reality, and won an award for the best use of technology.
We caught up with them some years later to find out how business is going…

What can you remember of your involvement with Shell LiveWIRE?
Coming straight out of University with great design qualifications, but no real business knowledge, Caroline went to The Denbighshire Enterprise Agency for a one day course on setting up and running your own business.  It is from that session that she found out about the Shell LiveWIRE awards.

Initially the application was a great way to focus on a proper business plan and to think about this business for real and not just something to play at.  Although everyone was supportive and made you feel at ease, the interviewers asked some really tough questions. Looking back now, and thinking about some of our answers, we were so very young! I remember going round the room, looking at all the displays from the other contestants, convinced their businesses were all so much better than ours – we were just some students enjoying doing designs for people. I still feel that now, 10 years on, still enjoying the designing, still thinking I’m 24!

We were so pleased and surprised to win the North East Wales Regional Awards and to be invited down to Cardiff for the whole of Wales competition. Even though we didn’t go on to win the All Wales Award, we did win the award for “The best use of Technology”.

The experience was fantastic and something we will always tell people about.

How have things changed for you since you won your Shell LiveWIRE award?
Winning Shell LiveWIRE was ten years ago. During the competition, we spoke about how we would develop and expand the business bringing on new customers which would in turn lead to more employees. Well, as it happened, one of our first new clients after the awards would go on to be our biggest and most long standing customer, Scott Safety. We had to make a jump from just the two of us to a team of 6 within 6 months as we were the design team that would go on to develop the world's most advanced respirator for the British Armed Forces, the GSR.

In the last 10 years we have grown to a team of 17 at one point, but have leveled out more recently to a steady 14 employees.  We work with leading pharmaceutical companies on their medical devices and drug delivery mechanisms. We still work with Scott Safety and are moving into our 7th year of a committed contract. Our clients range from start-up companies like the ones we were competing with in Cardiff to multi-national companies in the States, Europe and Australia.

Winning the best use of technology award was very apt as we have always been the leader in our industry and the geographical area for new technologies. In 2005, with the assistance from a Welsh Assembly Grant, we were the first company in North Wales to own an SLA 3Dprinter. This £100K piece of kit meant we could develop design ideas faster and more efficiently than other consultancies, securing work from Qioptiq, who were just across the road from us, but up to then had used prototyping houses in England. With a fully equipped workshop, testing equipment for respirator standards and in 2012 another state of the art 3D printer purchased, customers not only come to us for design knowledge, but the full suite on offer.
How have you had to adapt as an entrepreneur over the years?
Re-reading some of the press releases and articles from 2002 when we won the awards, I look and think that we had such grand ideas and thought “This time next year,we’ll be millionaires”.  Over the last 10 years the design industry has swung from large manufacturing companies using consultancies to bringing the design in-house to their own development teams. It is only just now that we are seeing a shift back to outsourcing design with the country’s economy problems having an influence on businesses looking to streamline their internal resources.

A lot of our investments in technology have been in response to changes and opportunities in the industry. Being able to offer something more than just great design can sometimes be the only way into a company. But once companies start working with us they soon see that we are not just your average consultancy and they become clients for years.

What has been the biggest obstacle you have overcome in business?
Employees and employment law. Being good at what you do and getting work is one thing, but dealing with 15 individual people, their personalities, ambitions, needs and wants is very challenging. It is not helped by increasing legislation that prevents the employer saying, doing or just being themselves without having to think through all the different possible interpretations people may have and account for the worst.

Employment law works well for the faceless factory environment, it doesn’t lend itself to a creative, social and close-knit consultancy environment that we strive to achieve.

What are your top 3 tips for a young entrepreneur about to set up in business?
1.   Whatever you’ve achieved is amazing. So often we put ourselves down and don’t think we are doing a good job. Just by having the confidence to go it alone is a gold star moment and should be celebrated. Friends and Family are so proud of us owning our own business and sometimes we need reminding that it is quite amazing what we’ve done.

2.   Always enjoy what you do. There will be times when money, people, situations get you down and make you question "why am I doing this?".  For some people it may be the money, the work they are doing or the flexibility that comes with being your own boss, but if you can find at least one thing that makes you smile about being self-employed then you’re doing alright.

3.   Take time to work ON the business rather than get sucked into working IN the business. For us, we went to university to do design and design is what we love. We could work day after day designing and developing our clients’ products. But then one day we’ll lift our head up and realise we’ve finished all the project work and no new work or new clients are on the horizon. On a regular basis you need to get up onto that imaginary step ladder and look down on the whole of your business and take action as necessary.

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