Deep in the corridors of one of the UK’s best science centres, former Apprentice Andrew Turner spends his time thinking of Tomorrow’s World.
The 43-year-old, from County Durham, left Gestamp Tallent six years ago to nurture a “back of a beer mat” idea that would go on to earn him royalties.
Now the inventor shares regular discussions with Ebac founder John Elliott, who is a sounding board, sharing his entrepreneurial expertise to help him along the way.
Andrew spent four years developing an invention – initially made up from two laser pens bought from eBay for £3.20 – which would enable robotic welders to weld steel at the exact distance required to do the perfect job without error.
As with all good inventions, it sounds so simple.
What wasn’t simple, however, was the protracted process to patent and licence his product.
A total investment of around £100,000 was required to secure the necessary certificates (he has them laminated, just for safe keeping) from authorities all over Europe, in the US and even Japan, to prohibit anyone from mimicking his gizmo – an outlay which has already covered its costs.
German-based multi-national engineering firm Abicor Binzel was quick to latch on and are now producing them around the world, with Andrew getting a well-negotiated commission for every one sold while sat in his NETPark office working on the next big ideas.
NETPark (North East Technology Park) is Business Durham’s hub for science and technology, of which Andrew has now been made an Ambassador – a practical engineer among professors.
He’s now advising the NHS on new inventions to improve services and efficiency, while John Elliott is keen to assist, working with him on potentially manufacturing an NHS Innovations award-winning Food and Beverage trolley, that he has already successfully launched with the Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust.
And while being retained by the NHS on a consultancy basis for 100 days of the year, Andrew is also working on another exciting new project which pricked the ears of two leading North-East businessmen.
It’s a brave but exciting new world for a young lad who left St John’s School in Bishop Auckland with few qualifications.
Andrew’s first invention and subsequent ongoing royalties gave him the security and platform to launch his business, Quality Hospital Solutions.
QHS is set to become a Healthcare Innovation Hub quite soon, and has the privilege of direct access to an NHS Trust.
“I have a desk within the NHS Trust, and an office at NETPark,” says Andrew.
“It’s a good mix and I get to tap into the 5,000 staff that work there. I get full support with any trials, and can get first hand advice from the staff that will eventually use the products. I can then tap into the Innovation Network to support the projects. I am now also being approached by other companies trying to access the NHS with innovative products.
“I developed a new Beverage Trolley with the staff at City Hospitals Sunderland and we produced 40 of them, which have now been in service over a year. Basically, they improve efficiency for the NHS, reduce purchase costs and also make sure drinks can be served hot constantly, to avoid any customer complaints!”
Andrew has since been working with John with an aim to produce more of them for a growing list of enquiries.
In the beginning, getting his original idea from the back of a beer mat to the mass market was a steep learning curve for Andrew.
But now at NETPark he’s at a place where a lot of companies have already, or are trying to do the same thing. Its helps to be in an environment like this.
Good job, as well, given that he thinks of new ideas on a regular basis.
“How many people are out there who have ideas but they don’t know what to do with them?” he said.
“I’m constantly looking at problems, and when you look at problems you try to think of a solution. There are problems bouncing at you every day. With every problem there may be an opportunity.
“I went through a massive learning curve, from having just a basic concept to taking it into production. The prototype cost me £6.20. – four laser pens purchased from Ebay were stripped and inserted into a piece of wood. Four years later it’s being sold worldwide. It is possible.”
Andrew has been made one of a handful of Ambassadors at NETPark.
“I think I was appointed because of my experience in getting a product from concept to market, and through my experience as to how Netpark can accommodate other people in similar situations,” he says.
“It’s all about NETPark, and what it should be doing to remain one of the best science and innovation parks in the UK.
“We’re able to access patent searches now at NETPark, which is a job in itself. It’s a minefield and you need expert advice to get you through it. It can be quite a stressful and costly process.”