The Papa Pump
How best to evolve the product and grow the business in new directions?
"Participating in Innovate helped us plan and prioritise what turned out to be a very busy year in the development of the business. It helped us to analyse our customers to better understand their needs. Itís been one of the best external sources of support we've had and has definitely left us better-positioned moving forward." Hugh Swire, partner, Papa Pumps
The Full Story
In the early Nineties, Bude-based hydraulic engineer Philip Selwyn designed a water pump to provide a simple and power-free alternative to the electrical pumps used by many to pump water.
The product was based on a 'ram' pump - a water pump invented in France 200 years ago which is powered by the flow and fall of water. This means it is, in effect, self-powered. Historically, ram pumps were large, unwieldy and prone to deterioration. Selwyn's design, however, updated the concept. His product, the Papa Pump (short for Pump Activated Pressure Amplifier, and a descriptor of the pa-pa sound the pump makes when working correctly), was locally produced in small numbers from bronze and stainless steel.
In 1997, Selwyn established Papa Pumps as a company to oversee the further commercial development of his product. A redesigned version of the pump featured an improved, patented valve. Sales grew steadily - at first in the south west amongst dairy farmers wanting to take water from streams for troughs or to irrigate land, then in other parts of the UK and Africa.
In 2010, almost 700 Papa Pumps were in use worldwide and the company was exploring ways to bring out new products to further grow the business. At the same time that the company heard about the support available through the Design Council's Designing Demand programme Innovate, which is run for start-up and technology companies and is administered in the south west by The Design Programme, through its local Business Link.
"It was a moment of reflection for us as we worked to identify the future direction we should take," Selwyn's business partner, Hugh Swire, explains. "We hoped that bringing an external perspective to what we were doing and what we wanted to achieve would help us move forward."
Participation in Innovate begins with an intensive workshop which takes place over two consecutive days and a one day follow up a week later. This is run by facilitators who are experienced design consultants and attended by a handful of other local businesses also participating in the scheme.
Intended to help participating businesses brainstorm ideas about how best to realise their business objectives, the workshop uses design-led business analysis to break down a business and challenge its management team on all aspects of it. At the end of this session each business is then allocated a design advisor who will mentor the management team over the year ahead with progress structured around 12 monthly meetings.
"The workshop experience was key because of how it helped us identify our various priorities then schedule steps to ensure we achieved our goals," Swire says. "This is a far more effective approach than rushing around trying to do everything at once."
Working with Gareth Jones, the design associate allocated to be their Innovate mentor, Selwyn and Swire explored ways to grow their business. "The Papa Pump is a product with significant potential because it has no running costs and when scaled up has clear and significant potential in new markets not just in the UK but internationally," Jones observes.
The company undertook end user research - conducting interviews with users and compiling a detailed photo log to better understand why the pump is bought and the benefits purchasers value most. The results of this, in turn, is helping shape a number of subsequent projects.
Papa Pumps worked with a local design agency on the redesign of its marketing materials, web site and product manual. It then appointed an in-house design manager and moved ahead with a plan already in place to bring to market by late 2011 a redesigned, plastic version of the Papa Pump which is cheaper to make, smaller and lighter.
"Though we expected Innovate's focus to be solely on the core product, the insight and support participation in the programme generated has also fed into longer-term ambitions for Papa Pumps - in particular, our plans to develop other versions of the pump for new markets," Swire says.
Today, the company is well-advanced with a project to create the first of a number of new products that will take its patented pump technology into new markets. It has developed a prototype of a large scale pump which will be aimed at water utilities companies. This prototype, which weighs in at five tonnes, will be presented to potential investors and customers in coming months at a demonstration site in rural mid-Somerset.
Plans are also evolving to develop Papa Pumps technology for other uses - domestic water capture for example. Meanwhile, the company now has a relationship with a number of leading universities in the south west with which it is working on investigating bigger and more complex pumps. A product design student from the university has also been working with the company on placement.
"Participating in Innovate helped us plan and prioritise what turned out to be a very busy year in the development of the business. It helped us look at the product from a different angle - something we are continuing to benefit on. And it helped us to analysis our customers to better understand their needs," says Swire.
"Itís been one of the best external sources of support we've had and has definitely left us better-positioned moving forward."
Designing Demand is part-financed by the European Union's ERDF Competitiveness and Employment Programme and the ERDF Convergence Programme. The Design Programme, which delivers Designing Demand in the south west, secured over £2 million of ERDF investment through the South West Regional Development Agency.
The 12-month trial, backed by a major UK electricity company, is now underway
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