“I must send the editors at the BBC a bag of Maltesers,” says Jason Roberts. “How they got that pitch down to three minutes, I’ll never know.”
Roberts spent a gruelling three hours and 45 minutes being interviewed by BBC2’s Dragons’ Den panel when he went to pitch his firm, Tech21 and a cutting edge new product. “By the end of it, I would have sold my own mother,” he says.
The entrepreneur’s firm designs and manufactures impact protection cases for the mobile technology market, from laptops to iPods and mobile phones. Roberts is serial entrepreneur and veteran of the technology sector. He’s been in the business 13 years and sold his stake in his previous company in order to invest £70,000 in his new startup.
“I had this great idea,” he says. “I’d been dealing with the laptop computer market: Dell, Toshiba and a few others. I spotted a huge gap in market for a protection solution for carry cases. All existing carry case manufacturers just supply a bag with foam inside. They’re big and cumbersome. I wanted to develop a bag that would suspend the laptop inside so that even if you dropped it, wouldn’t get damaged.”
To exploit this niche, Roberts invented the Laptop Impact Protection System (LIPS) and patented it. He makes it sound like a breeze, and it was. “It’s so simple,” he says. “I had all these contacts in China from my background, so we made a prototype and immediately got buy-in from Toshiba. We already make LIPS products for them, featuring their branding.”
Roberts launched Tech21’s secondary system – Compressed Air Protection (CAPS) – soon after.
Tech21 turned over £620,000 last year off the back of these inventions. However, when Jason Roberts found out about a revolutionary new intelligent material, d3o, two years ago, he realised the “intelligent gel” would bring a whole new dimension to his business and set about designing another range.
“In its normal state, the gel is soft,” he explains. “But as soon as there’s an impact – if you punch it or drop it, the molecules lock together to absorb and distribute the force.”
d30 is already bought in by the US military. “They spend billions on R&D,” says Roberts. “And even they can’t make this stuff.”
In order to negotiate an exclusivity agreement with d3o, Roberts needed to come up with £120,000 to seal the deal. “I could have invested the money myself,” he admits. “But I didn’t want to put the young company under unnecessary stress.”
Roberts applied to appear on Dragons’ Den earlier this year and, after extensive due diligence, made it onto the show. He was the only entrepreneur to receive investment on last night’s programme, collaring £150,000 from Theo Paphitis and Peter Jones.
However, Roberts had to work hard for the money. “They ask you so many questions,” he says. “I earned that money by the end!”
However, having the two Dragons on board will do wonders for the business. “It’s already gone bananas,” says Roberts. “And Peter Jones contacts in the mobile market have perfect synergy with my business. There’s also opportunity to roll out Tech21 protective products in Theo Paphitis’ Ryman chain.”
The investment and mentoring will see the young firm reach £1m turnover this year.
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