Lisa Walford first had the idea for an innovative baby seat design 14 years ago, shortly after the birth of her eldest daughter. Walford explains how motherhood gave her an idea she was able to turn into a marketable product.
When she was driving her daughter in her car, Walford would notice that her baby slumped forward when she fell asleep. To recline the baby seat and make her daughter more comfortable Walford was forced to stop the car. This was an inconvenience at best but downright unpleasant if the weather was bad. Pondering the problem at the time, she realised a remotely reclinable baby seat would be a real benefit to her and millions of mothers like her. However, she was working as a police officer and simply didn’t have the time to develop the idea. She was also not in a position to fund such a project.
Two years ago, Walford’s situation changed. She left the police service and with more time available her mind returned to the problem that she had quietly been developing a solution for over the intervening years. She quickly established that there was still nothing on the market that allowed parents to recline baby seats remotely and she identified that there was still an opportunity. Walford was asked why such an obvious solution didn’t exist. “I’m not certain,” she said. “One thing I did notice when researching the idea was that none of the car seat buyers I spoke to at retailers actually had children. I found that quite bizarre. “I also don’t think that any buyers or designers would have considered the implications of someone reaching back to adjust a seat while driving. However, I had seen the dangers of such a manoeuvre with my background in the police.”
At the same time, Walford’s research identified the health issues that a slumped sleeping position could cause forbabies, especially newborns who need to lie flat. A neonatal nurse that Walford came into contact with had spent two years researching car-seat death, a phenomenon similar to cot death where babies have suffocated through being held in a ‘V’ shape. The study also showed that, when used on a regular basis, the oxygen deficiency could deprive organs and that over an extended period incorrect positioning can lead to ADHD and other mental health illnesses. As a result, most car seat manufacturers now recommend that babies should be in a car seat for no more than two hours. People assume this is a comfort issue, but in reality, it is related to health implications.
Armed with this knowledge, Walford was even more determined to turn her idea into a reality, and evolved the initial concept to allow the seat to flatten as it reclines: not unlike a reclining armchair.Walford knew what she wanted to do, but had no experience of turning an idea into a product. Her starting point was to identify a product design consultancy that could help turn her ideas into a series of concept boards. At the same time, the company carried out a patent search.
Once they had confirmed there was nothing similar in the pipeline, Walford booked a place at five baby shows so she could survey and talk to potential parents and customers. She wanted to get proof of concept. She needed feedback and insight to assess the viability of the idea, to see how the market responded and to refine her idea.
The response at the first show blew Walford away. “I was delighted by how the idea was received. I’d devised a tenquestion survey to measure the reaction, and the results were hugely positive,” she said. “Validating my idea was critical. I needed to know that people who were not biased, like my friends and family could be, thought it was a good idea too.” With four more shows planned, Walford went back to the design company and commissioned a prototype. The team had six weeks to turn a relatively simple concept into a mechanically complex working prototype.
“It’s still been a steep learning curve. I didn’t realise how many components there were in a car seat,” Walford said. “I’ve had to source every single part to know costs for my business plan. I’ve been to factories, spoken to parts distributors and learned a tremendous amount. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s a project I’m truly passionate about; it has become something I couldn’t give up on.”
Would Walford recommend working with a specialist design consultancy to other product developers? “That would depend on the type of project,” she said. “Where there is a need to consider all the safety and legislative aspects of something like a baby seat it is essential to work with a team which has a clear understanding of the landscape.
“It’s also easy to underestimate the complexity of a product’s design requirements. I certainly couldn’t have got to where I have without their input. The mechanism has been completely redesigned to recline properly; then there are the electronics to allow the remote function. Two different specialists worked on those areas. On the day it all came together, we were all standing there with our breath held as we didn’t know if it was going to work! But, of course, it did. It was an exciting day, to finally see my ideas turn into reality.”
Armed with a prototype, Walford attended the four other shows. The reaction to her idea was still extremely positive, but with potential customers now able to see the concept in action, it made it even easier for them to appreciate its benefits. By this stage, Walford had exhausted the funds she could personally inject into the project. But she was delighted to establish there was a definite market for her idea. To take it to the next stage and start to produce the car seats Walford needs third-party investment and her energies have turned to raising finance.
Baby Safe has worked with Breakthrough funding, a company that helps UK SMEs achieve R&D tax credits - a government scheme created to enhance and reward innovation amongst UK businesses. Could you be eligible? Click here to learn more.
For more information, click here.