“Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” Everyone in business knows the phrase and some of the most successful companies in the world have been built on this simple premise.
Hoping to join them is Wheelright, an Oxford-based SME and developer of a patented technology that allows car, truck and bus drivers to measure their tyre pressures accurately within seconds – without them even having to get out of the vehicle.
The instrument, which has won awards from the likes of analysts Frost & Sullivan, requires no kit on the vehicle and has already been adopted by bus companies and truck operators in the UK.
“Bringing a cutting edge technology to a conservative market such as transport has been a really tough road to follow, but we’re now making great progress,” said John Catling, CEO of WheelRight.
Following a 30-year career in industry in the UK and US, and a spell as divisional manager of a £100m company (plus time as an angel investor), Catling joined WheelRight in 2004 as an equity backer. However, he became increasingly involved in the company until it became his prime business focus.
Chairman Michael Taylor had already identified a technology that he believed could revolutionise the way drivers measured their vehicles’ tyre pressures. “We’ve successfully turned the dirty job of tyre pressure checking into an automated and convenient process – all drivers need to do to gain an accurate tyre pressure reading is to drive over it and wait 30 seconds for the results,” explained Catling.
The WheelRight team has spent the last 11 years working on R&D to get the product right. Things are now looking up for the business, which has had to overcome a number of challenges over the last ten years – particularly in the areas of technology development, funding and market adoption.
Initially, investment came from private investors – Catling, Taylor and various other angel supporters. Having developed a strong business proposition and a demonstrable technology, the company achieved backing via an Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) fund. In July 2014, Calculus Capital put £2.5m in the business, adding a further £1.4m in July this year.
“We’ve had to work hard to ensure that our drive-over instrument is robust and reliable in all conditions,” commented Catling. “We’ve undertaken countless presentations and meetings to secure funding for ongoing product development and had to combat surprisingly high levels of scepticism from the transport sector and central government alike. Having said that, our belief in our solution has never wavered and this commitment is finally paying off. It sounds trite, but I would advise other entrepreneurs with innovative ideas to stick to their guns and not be disheartened by knockbacks.”
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A pilot project at Keele Services on the M6, under the auspices of Highways England and Welcome Break Services, has provided the company with its biggest big break. This world-first market test, which is free to both car and HGV drivers, has created widespread awareness of the company’s technology and proved the effectiveness of its drive-over instrument. Reaction from both private motorists, HGV drivers, the police and highway authorities has been very encouraging, according to Catling.
This year has been one of significant growth for the business, which is now in the final stages of negotiation with a number of potential customers including European distribution businesses, fleet operators and bus companies. The business now employs 18 people, most of whom are highly qualified engineers or mathematicians, and is aiming to reach an annual turnover of £200,000 by the end of this year.
WheelRight has been successful because it has a unique, patented technology that provides drivers of trucks, buses and cars with a tangible benefit, it believes. Regularly checking the pressures of bus, truck and car tyres is a vital part of fleet management, but it can be onerous as any fleet manager knows.
“In the case of large commercial vehicle fleets and buses, the economic argument is clear,” added Catling. “Our experience shows that one regional bus company saved over £30,000 a year by simply monitoring their tyre pressures properly. Our system takes the hassle away from an important vehicle check that should be done regularly. We can now measure tyre pressures every day, without any effort, so why wouldn’t you?”
WheelRight does not sell its product to customers, instead it has developed a rental model that includes after-sales support, to ensure users continue to enjoy new functionality as it becomes available.
Transport is a conservative sector, said Catling. “We’ve had to work hard to ensure our drive-over instrument is robust and reliable in all conditions. We’ve had to undertake countless presentations and meetings to secure funding for ongoing product development and had to combat surprisingly high levels of scepticism from some in the transport sector.”
WheelRight is already working with some of the biggest names in public transport and retail distribution and Catling, Taylor and the team are confident that they will now grow their customer base in the UK quickly. They’re also looking to expand our offer overseas to countries including the USA and mainland Europe. A better mousetrap? Only time will tell.
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