Case study with Mark Champkins, Concentrate
Innovation: Products to help children concentrate better at school
Although he is best known for being one of the few entrepreneurs to enter the Dragon’s Den and emerge with some investment, Mark Champkins’ Concentrate brand dates back much further than that. He first came up with the idea while applying his studies in industrial design engineering to the furniture and equipment being used in primary schools, as part of a research commission by Helen Hamlyn Research Centre in 2003. ‘At the time there was a lot of investment in school buildings as a means to improve schoolchildren’s learning skills,’ says Mark, who had just completed a degree at the Royal College of Art. ‘But what I actually found was that although the buildings had been improved no end, the furniture within them was still old-fashioned and uncomfortable. Teachers told me that the hard chairs and desks made it difficult for the children to concentrate, but that the budget didn’t exist to upgrade in large numbers to more comfortable furnishings.’
Mark saw a gap in the market and designed a range of products to fill it. These included the Concentrate chairpadbag, a rucksack that has a special padded flap that folds out over the back rest of school chairs to make hard seats comfy, and the bottlecoolerpenholder, which reminds children to drink water throughout the day and so improve their levels of concentration. He went on to also develop a ‘food for thought’ lunchbox that protects fruit from being bashed or bruised and a lunchbox cooler bag that keeps packed lunches cool, fresh and palatable.
Facing the Dragons
It was with prototypes of both these products that Mark Champkins appeared on Dragon’s Den in October 2007, from where he emerged with a £100,000 investment from Peter Jones. But he says that without the requisite intellectual property (IP) in place, he would not have received the response he did. ‘I had some knowledge of IP when I first started out,’ he says. ‘But really not that much. I knew that it was an intricate process and that I would need some expert advice to assist me, but I didn’t know who to turn to. Patent attorneys generally charge by the hour, and that just wasn’t an option for me.’
Fortunately Mark was alerted to the free IP advisory service provided by Own-it after attending an IP awareness event organised by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA). He registered as a member and sent in an enquiry for a face-to-face IP clinic with one of Own-it’s partner law firms in early 2007.
‘The dilemma that I emailed about actually related to whether or not I could patent one of the products that I had just invented,’ says Mark. ‘But actually it turned out that, in my case, a design right for that invention was a far more effective way of protecting my work. I never would have realised that if it hadn’t been for the advice of the Own-it lawyers. They set out the pros and cons of both approaches and then provided me with the information I needed to go on and register my rights.’
Know your rights
‘Few of us realise how important IP is when we first emerge from university or college,’ Mark adds. ‘We have so many other things to worry about, such as getting our businesses off the ground in the first place. That’s why it’s so important to have a service that you can turn to not just when it comes to specific advice or assistance, but also for general knowledge building.’
‘If inventors don’t protect their ideas then they won’t have businesses in which to invest. Own-it’s services provide a readily accessible means of providing the support inventors need to develop a better understanding of IP and how important it is to their business.’
Interview by Emma Jones, Own-it (UAL). Pictures provided by Mark Champkins, Concentrate