An innovative toy helps designer construct business success

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An Edinburgh designer has created a new construction toy that not only keeps children and adults amused, it teaches them all about 3D geometry and arms them with problem-solving skills.

Name: Euan Lind

Age: 40

What is your business called? I’m am the inventor of a new construction toy called Stems and the co-founder of Splatform Limited. 

Where is it based? Edinburgh

What does it produce, what services does it offer? Stems is a flexible 3D toy that promotes fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and dexterity (and it doesn't hurt if you stand on it!). With just one piece its weird wobbly geometry can zip together to make bouncing balls, rolling wheels and even wearable accessories. Stems extend the boundaries of play and encourage creative problem-solving skills such as curiosity and lateral thinking. It’s also an immersive off-screen way for children to explore and understand 3D geometry. Aimed at ages five and up - so far it's found no upper age limit!

To whom does it sell? Curious children, parents who value playful curiosity in their children's education, and teachers looking for an exciting way to teach 3D geometry. We sell through our website and have recently started to partner with museum shops and sell directly to schools. 

What is its turnover? Since launching in April we’ve sold over 1000 packs direct, 500 through retail and over 150 directly into schools. It is early days but we’re aiming for a turnover of £200,000 by April next year.

How many employees? At the moment just me.

When was it formed? May 2016 

Why did you take the plunge? My biggest ambition has always been to create work for the mass market, and with Stems I feel I have finally created a product I’m confident is good enough to be judged on this basis. So taking it to market was the logical next step.

What were you doing before you took the plunge? While I was teaching English and Art in a school in Denmark in 2001, I was inspired by the prominent place design has in Scandinavia which ultimately led me to give up teaching and pursue a career in 3D Design. I graduated with a postgraduate in Interdisciplinary design from Napier in 2008, having supported myself during the course by working as a nursery and school learning assistant. Highlights since graduating have included selling a table at Christie’s. It was on the evening of the financial crash in 2008 that I sold the table called Twist at the famous auction house. The event was set up to support Great Ormond Street Hospital as well as new designers. Also working as a consultant on a variety of exciting product and interior design projects that included the design and renovation of Edinburgh’s Timberyard restaurant and I sold a self-assembly light in Habitat.

How did you raise the start-up funding? Splatform Limited was formed last year with seed funding from two STEM education enthusiasts I got to know through Edinburgh International Science Festival. Prior to that, I self-funded the development of Stems and patent costs through income generated by my other design projects. 

What was your biggest break? In 2014 an early prototype of Stems won a place in the British Inventors Project Final which gave us the opportunity to exhibit and sell at Gadget Show Live in the NEC. We sold out of all 150 prototype packs which was really exciting and led me to realise, for the first time, what a success Stems could be.

What was your worst moment? While at Gadget Show Live I was approached by a distribution company who I went into business with without due diligence and that resulted in quite a few issues but fortunately, the fantastic legal team at Skyscanner, who provided pro bono work, helped me satisfactorily resolve the situation. 

What do you most enjoy about running the business? The business is really a by-product of the ambitions I have for Stems to communicate. I enjoy that we’re making a success of it. 

What do you least enjoy? My skill set is probably best suited to coming up with new ideas and this is what I most enjoy, but I’ve come to realise this is perhaps the opposite of running a business! That means my biggest challenge is staying focused. I have lots of exciting new ideas for future Stems products but I realise these are unlikely to see the light of day unless this version is a success. When people ask me what my biggest achievement is, I often say “not having any new ideas for the past year”. Ultimately I would like to take on a Chief Operating Officer to give me the freedom to focus more on product development and strategic matters.

What is your biggest bugbear? I've got a bit of a love-hate relationship with pitching. On the one hand, I love it, as Stems is a really exciting product which speaks for itself, or at least it does in the hands of children. But it can be a bit more of a challenge to communicate to grown-ups who aren’t always quite as playful! That’s why being chosen to complete Business Gateway Edinburgh’s Gateway to Investment programme was so beneficial. It gave me the chance to really perfect my pitch, not just in front of potential Angel investors but to others in a similar boat to me. Having that introduction to the local Angel community - and discovering they’re not as intimidating a bunch as I perhaps feared – was invaluable. I’ve since been in touch with several of them and we are considering our options with regards to taking on investment. 

What are your ambitions for the firm? We aim to be the second most successful construction toy within five years.  

What are your five top priorities? Sell, sell, sell, sell! And grow the business and brand to a point where we can start to launch the next range of exciting Stems toys.

What single thing would most help? That everyone keeps buying Stems from www.stems.shop is probably the most crucial! We’d also love to hear from distributors who are involved in the museum gift shop space. 

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned? Don’t let other people pigeonhole you. Stay curious and persevere!

Find out how Business Gateway Edinburgh can help your business by visiting their local pages or calling 0131 516 5035.

Outwith the area? Find your local Business Gateway office or call 0300 013 4753.

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