Samuel Webb, 17, and Alex Baldy, 17, so impressed the judges with their ‘fantastick’ design for a walking aid that principal Dragon and Lewes-based investor Andrew Newton said he was prepared to back it.
The teenagers were among 12 Lewes Old Grammar School students who made their pitch to a panel of local business leaders earlier this year. But two of the teams competing for the £500 prize money got more than they bargained for when Andrew, a serial entrepreneur, who runs the Sussex property development company Blue Sonic, said “I’m in” for real.
The winning pair were inspired to enter the Den by Samuel’s 87-year-old grandmother who had difficulty trying to keep her walking stick comfortably within reach when she wasn’t using it.
“My nan props up her walking stick when she comes to us and it’s forever rolling over so we’re always picking it up for her. My mother works in a health practice so I know many of her patients have a similar problem,” said Samuel, who lives in Westham, Pevensey.
Using LOGS’ design and technology lab, the two pals developed a low-cost retractable tripod that slides neatly out of the way when a stick is in use. The simple device, which they estimate would cost between £15 and £25, could make life easier for tens of thousands of elderly people in the UK as well as others who rely on walking aids.
Just like the TV wannabees, the teams, aged from 10 to 17, were asked to come up with business, sales and marketing plans to support their inventions as well as proof of concept before presenting their ideas to a line-up of stony-faced judges in front of a live audience.
Andrew immediately pledged to take the winning invention and the runner-up - a wine stopper linked to an app that monitors your alcohol consumption – to the next level. And he praised LOGS headmaster Robert Blewitt for encouraging the students’ entrepreneurial streak.
“This type of exercise is a great way of making the younger generation realize that profit is not a dirty word and that working hard and taking risks reaps rewards. We need to celebrate success in business and not be jealous of it,” said Andrew, whose fellow Dragons included Joe Light from MDJ Light Brothers, Bill Collison of Bill’s Restaurant chain and Nigel Dowsing of Managed Insurance Claims Ltd.
“I’ve now asked both teams to put together a fully costed business plan with a view to me investing in working prototypes and seeking patents. I’ve never found anything that I think I’m particularly good at. Now, I know I’m interested in this area of entrepreneurial business.”