“We wouldn’t have had a business without them”

The pub has always been the place for talking about great business ideas with your mates. Few of those conversations ever actually lead to the start of a real venture. Here’s how one manufacturing company is committed to helping entrepreneurs turn their ideas into reality.

Paul Smith and Dave Bostock, two self-employed tradesmen in the building industry, had known each other for many years before a conversation – yes, in a pub – got them thinking.

The idea had come from Dave Bostock watching an electrician struggling to feed wires through the outside wall of a house. Their concept was simple enough: design a drill with an extruded plastic sleeve that would enable someone to drill through a cavity wall, leave the extrusion in place and then it would be easy to pass any number of cables and wires through it.

An early prototype and some research on Google told them that they were onto something.

But it was only with the help of Gripple and its Incub that their idea has become a real business with an actual product that is just about to be launched.

Gripple, a Sheffield-based £35m-turnover employee-owned company, is not just an innovative manufacturer of clever wire joining and tensioning devices. It’s passionately committed to fostering sustainable businesses in its beloved South Yorkshire.

“We formed Incub to help entrepreneurs bring their products to market,” says Gordon Macrae, special projects manager at Gripple. “It’s a flexible incubator; we do different things for different people depending upon their requirements. We’re seeing a company or an individual every week.”

For Conxa – the company set up by Bostock and Smith – that has translated into a wealth of advice and practical help: from patent applications to marketing, from funding to design. In 12 months, it’s gone from pub chat to a packaged product. All the components are made by companies with a Sheffield postcode. “That’s not bad,” observes Macrae, “with our support they have a better product, a more robust business plan and they have brought it to market much quicker.”

Paul Smith and Dave Bostock of Conxa: "we wouldn't have had a business if it wasn't for Gripple"

Paul Smith and Dave Bostock of Conxa: “we wouldn’t have had a business if it wasn’t for Gripple”

The market opportunity for Conxa is large. The roll-out of the smart metering scheme will involve the installation of 30 million meters into residential and commercial properties. “Gas fitters, electricians, CCTV installers, Sky installer. BT Openreach installers – they are all potential customers,” says Bostock.

There’s another dimension to this story. The e-commerce, packing and fulfillment will be handled for Conxa by Emmaus, a homeless charity based in a nearby refurbished steel mill that will also serve as Conxa’s office. Large business helps a small business come into being, which in turn provides new opportunities for a social enterprise – it’s an inspiring story.

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