West Sussex entrepreneurs who defied the odds invest £1m into automation business they built from scratch

The founders of Sussex's first independent integrator business have pledged to support smaller companies and create jobs after investing £1m into a new property.

Within three years, Danny Grigg, 35, and Chris Smith, 34, from Yapton, set up a thriving engineering business, from scratch, called Orion — specialising in automation with customers including Amazon and Royal Mail.

They have now purchased their first commercial premises costing close to a million pounds in Fontwell Avenue, Eastergate, and both drive Teslas — an American electric vehicle.

The pair, who now live in Bracklesham Bay, left school with few qualifications but have followed their dream regardless and become successful business owners.

Danny and Chris both come from a background of working in automation, with conveyors and robots. Photo: Steve Robards

Co-director Danny said: "One of the main reasons for buying Teslas is to be completely honest, they are great cars and super fast, but it's also about the environment.

"As men with children, you want to make sure the world is a nice place.

"I don't think it's about the material things. It's about the experiences along the way."

'Niche in the market'

Chris Smith and Danny Grigg of Orion at their Eastergate office. Photo: Steve Robards

Danny and Chris both come from a background of working in automation, with conveyors and robots.

"Three years ago, we decided we could do it better," Danny said.

"We started an integration company and, from there, we have created jobs in the area and have formed out new unit down here.

"We are the only independent integrator in Sussex."

Danny said they have found a 'niche in the market', adding: "We want it to be the most affordable, flexible automation company in the market. In the last three years, I honestly think we've achieved that."

The pioneering business owners initially met through their shared love of sports.

"Chris used to skateboard a lot and got me into it," Danny said. "All these years later, it's come full circle and I'm teaching Chris how to surf.

"We were both in engineering apprenticeships and we grew up in the same village.

"We built our first integrated system together for big companies. I travelled abroad on the project side to put those systems in, whilst Chris forged a corporate career at the top of his game in the maintenance side.

"We came back together a few years later and so Orion was born essentially."

'We've gone from strength to strength'

The company was Chris' brainchild.

"We both worked for larger companies involved in warehouse automation," he said. "We were both in fairly senior roles.

"We came back together again to start a business and it was my idea to start moving into becoming an integrator. We haven't really looked back since.

"That means we design, manufacture, assemble and install all in-house products onto customer sites so they can improve their operations.

"We've gone from a small company working out of my home office to a unit down in Chichester and then investing a million pounds into our own facility where we are bringing another ten jobs into the local area.

"We employ over 20 people now. We've gone from strength to strength really."

Danny said the Covid pandemic has meant automation has become a 'necessity' for businesses.

He said Orion offers free consultations to local companies, looking for advice on how to improve their operations.

"It's tough times but like with all businesses, it's about realising the importance of automated processes," he said.

"Within our market, it's about making the job more enjoyable for people. People can work over a much more spread out area.

"Covid has made e-commerce and online selling and buying platforms far busier. It's like Christmas every day for a few of the companies. Within that, there's a real need for automation.

"One of things we are looking to do as a company as a whole, is to start supporting the small businesses here in Sussex and surrounding areas."

Having invested nearly £1m into the building, Danny and Chris are now looking to 'invest a further million' into equipment, machinery and staff.

"That's the main thing," Danny said. "We are both apprenticeship trained and can take people out and teach them skills.

"We are looking to start taking more control and create some bespoke machinery. We are working with some very cool customers and some cutting-edge equipment.

"From our side, it's really about getting engineering here in Sussex and pushing that forward.

"We are looking for case studies from local customers and businesses. We really enjoy the opportunity to help any business that have been affected by Covid, especially within the warehousing and production areas."

'We are the two lowest qualified people in the company'

The pair hope the growth of their business will provide inspiration to others, particularly those who are struggling in school.

Danny said: "I think we are the two lowest qualified people in the company if I'm being honest.

"In my opinion, grades at school are a good starting point but I don't think they are everything.

"I think there's a lot of pressure on young people, especially around the mental health aspect and the way social media portrays things.

"Ultimately it comes down to hard work and the right people around you. Certainly don't be scared to take that challenge.

"If you find something you enjoy doing and have a passion for, naturally that moves forward.

"There's no problem, whatever age you are, not knowing what you want to do. It's a part of being a human being.

"I don't think there should be that much pressure on whether you succeed."

Chris added: "When you get out into the big wide world, you realise that there's interesting things that you might want to learn.

"Outside of that very strict syllabus that they all have to stick to, it's been largely irrelevant for us. It's determination and hard work."