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24 Aug 2010
Picture caption: Entrepreneurs Alex Lewis and Letitia Valentine, picture with Venture Wales’ Phil Dodson
Swansea duo Surviva the Dragon’s Den
Two inventors from Swansea have conquered the Dragon’s Den, winning support and investment from millionaire business woman Deborah Meaden for their business Surviva. Sketty duo Alex Lewis, 27 and Letitia Valentine, 27 found success with their groundbreaking Surviva Jak, a heat reflective jacket designed to prevent hypothermia and shock, have accepted Meaden’s offer of £75,000 for a 45% stake in their business.
Demand for the Surviva Jak continues to grow with an estimated 20,000 units predicted to sell by the end of this year. Meaden’s investment will enable Alex and Letitia to expand their range of products and to achieve their goal of a total turnover of £300,000 in 3 years time.
Alex says: “In the Den we proved that our business is growing quickly and to continue this momentum we sought investment to expand on the rage of products that we offer, further develop our manufacturing capacity and to investigate expansion into foreign markets.”
“Going into the Dragons Den was a terrifying experience,” said Letitia, “but the opportunity to pitch our idea to some of the UK’s most renowned business people was too good to pass up and despite the nerves, we now have the kudos of having a Dragon onboard. We’ve managed to secure a significant investment as well as Deborah’s business acumen which is a fantastic result.”
Former professional tri-athlete Alex and his partner Letitia dreamed up the Surviva jacket in March 2009 following a frightening mountain biking incident in the Brecon Beacons that left Letitia with hypothermia.
Letitia explains, “It rained constantly during the four-hour ride. During a downhill section of the mountain I became so cold I could hardly hold onto my handle bars, and was unable to squeeze the breaks. I was so cold I was shaking violently. We knew that I had to get warm and off the mountain as quickly as possible. We had a foil blanket with us which I tried to wrap myself in to help me warm up but I couldn’t ride my bike in it so it was useless. I’d wrap it around my shoulders but when I tried to cycle it kept blowing off. Eventually we reached a café and were able to warm up but we were shaken by what had happened.”
On the journey home the pair had their ‘eureka’ moment. “We thought it was crazy that no-one had made a jacket version of the blanket, and that’s where the idea began,” says Letitia.
Alex explains, “We decided to develop a product that could warm someone up in an emergency but that would also enable the wearer to move around and perform other tasks, like riding a bike or pitching a tent. Once we designed the product we needed funding to help us get the idea off the ground.”
The duo turned to Venture Wales, the leading business support organisation in Wales and signed on to the Graduate Start-Up Support Programme funded by the Welsh Assembly Government which is available for entrepreneurs fresh out of University who have a business idea with the potential for growth. The programme offers business planning workshops, one-to-one mentoring and financial support via a bursary award for business that demonstrate strong growth potential.
Phil Dodson, manager of Venture Wales’ Graduate Start-Up Support Programme explains: “New graduates with a good business idea may find that they are lacking in the practical knowledge and monetary funding required to get their business off the ground. Alex and Letitia came to us with a great, innovative product and we’ve helped them with things like building their business plan and creating a marketing and sales strategy.
“It’s all very well to have a great idea or product,” Phil continues, “but young entrepreneurs are in danger of wasting valuable time and effort because they lack the experience and the contacts required to structure a successful business. That’s where Venture Wales can help.”
“The advice that we got from Venture Wales was invaluable,” Letitia explains. “Our mentor Richard Perry has helped us take what was a blue sky idea and turn Surviva into a viable commercial business. Without support from Venture Wales we’d be many, many months behind where we are now.”
The Surviva Jak is designed with movement in mind and unlike blankets, which only work if the user is completely immobile; Surviva Jak enables the wearer to perform potentially life saving tasks. Tests have proven that the product is more than four times as effective as the traditional foil blanket.
Surviva Jak is now available from outdoors and camping equipment retailers across the country, and online at survivawear.com.