Posts tagged #alison-grieve

Safetray CEO's Brazilian trade mission


CEO Alison Grieve travelled to Brazil last year with a Santander trade mission, where she explored this rapidly-growing market and met with potential customers and contacts. Santander recently featured her on their Breakthrough Programme's website here. Read the full story below.

Brazil Trade Mission: Safetray
For the inventor and manufacturer of the patented Safetray, gaining first-hand market intelligence on Brazil was invaluable.

As inventor of the patented Safetray – a tray that stays soundly and helpfully attached to the server’s hand, thanks to a retractable clip on the underside – Alison Grieve is continually looking for new markets. Having spent two years developing her product and establishing it in the US, the Middle East and Australia, Alison, who is also the company’s CEO, wanted to secure the future of her business and build on some important early gains. “We had some significant wins,” she says. “We sold a license to San Jamar, a leading US food service business, to manufacture and sell the Safetray in the US and Canada. For all other territories, we manufacture and distribute the product ourselves from the factory in Scotland. But the San Jamar license enhances credibility and provides another revenue stream.”

While South America and Brazil in particular had not featured on her early business plans, Alison still recognised the possibilities they offered. The market has similarities to the Middle East, where Safetray has made significant inroads into the hotel and hospitality sector. “We had also just gone through an exercise to establish patents in different countries, including Brazil,” she says. “We knew there were massive opportunities in South America, but had no real idea how you would go about making a first approach into a market like Brazil.”


For Alison, everything about the Breakthrough trade mission to Brazil was helpful. Networking with entrepreneurs from the other companies on the trip meant delegates could exchange notes on their experiences. “The group was completely varied,” says Alison. “A lot of the companies were more developed than ours and were at a later stage than us. That in itself was inspiring.”

“We now have a really good understanding of Brazil and what we would need to do to make it work. We have made contacts there and so we are significantly ahead.” Alison Grieve, CEO Safetray Products Ltd.

While in Brazil, the various experts she met – tax accountants, lawyers and logistics specialists – were a source of invaluable market intelligence. “You hear a lot about the potential of Brazil,” she says. “Sometimes the best learning you can have is actually not to commercialise in a country. You do have to look at the complexities and work out whether you have the resources to penetrate a market like Brazil.”

Potential buyers

Safetray attracted interest from the Marriott, where delegates were staying in Rio de Janeiro, as well as potential buyers they met in São Paulo. “It is a question of understanding how we might fulfil those orders,” says Alison. “The import taxation is just so high that it might make the product price disproportionately high. But at least we know that there is interest, and we know there are opportunities.”

Brazil itself may not be a realistic short-term prospect for Safetray, but exporting to South America is definitely part of Alison’s plan for the next three years. It could be that the company will work to establish itself in neighbouring countries and export via those.

Alison believes export success must be grounded in thorough research. “I think you have to be quite careful as a small company,” she says. “We now have a really good understanding of Brazil and what we would need to do to make it work. We have made contacts there and so we are significantly ahead. We haven’t entered any overseas market without visiting, attending trade shows and putting considerable groundwork and research into that effort. With a little entrepreneurial skill and problem solving, we should get over the hurdles.”

Posted on February 19, 2013 .

Safetray CEO to speak at Scottish International Trade Network event


Safetray CEO Alison Grieve will be speaking at the Scottish International Trade Network (SITNet) event on Thursday 24th January.

The focus of the evening's talks will be on licensing in the USA, with Alison speaking about negotiating Safetray's licensing agreement with San Jamar Chef Revival. Alison invented the Safetray after witnessing a tray laden with champagne toppling over at an important function and recognising that this was an embarrassing, costly and potentially dangerous situation. Since its invention in 2009, the Safetray has been enthusiastically welcomed by the hospitality industry around the world.

Ian Murphy, Director, Innovi Business Growth will speak about licensing as a route to international markets.

Ian has 27 years’ experience of successfully negotiating licences for IP in a number of fields including aircraft cockpit displays, genetics, musical instruments, silicon chips and power generators. Ian provides advice and support to companies who wish to explore licensing as a potential route to international markets. Ian will share some key lessons based on his experience.

Event: Licensing as a route to market - Focus on the USA
Date: Thursday 24th January 2013, 18.00-20.00 hours
Topic: HSBC, 76 Hanover Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1EL

Tickets are available here

Posted on January 14, 2013 .

Safetray CEO interviewed on BBC Radio Scotland

CEO Alison Grieve was interviewed by Gillian Marles on BBC Radio Scotland's Business Scotland programme this weekend. Hear the full programme here or read the full transcript below.

Gillian Marles, voice over:  Scotland has a great history of invention. If it wasn’t for us, there wouldn’t be TV, colour photography, grass-collecting lawnmowers, marmalade, cotton reel threads, fountain pens… The list goes on. However, we didn’t invent the wheel, but a Scot did invent the pneumatic tire that goes around it. And we’re still an inventive nation, but not so good at making money from those inventions. Alison Grieve is one woman hoping to change that. She is Chief Executive and inventor of the Safetray.

Alison Grieve: I used to have an events business, and in my former years I was a waitress, so I knew the trials and tribulations of carrying trays. At one event, there was a particularly spectacular accident involving a trayload of champagne glasses toppling over just before the host of the event was about to walk in. There were champagne glasses everywhere, glass on the floor, the cost of the champagne alone was a couple of hundred pounds, and it was very embarrassing, costly and, of course, dangerous. So those three reasons helped me to invent the Safetray.

GM: But did you have it in your head that you were an inventor then?

AG: The truth is, that for quite a number of years, in fact ever since I was a child, I used to say “when I grow up I want to be an inventor”. My parents even have a tape of me saying I wanted to be an inventor when I grew up, so there was definitely a desire there. As part of my events business I used to be a consultant at a business events organisation, and saw fantastic financial services, lawyers and accountants. But I used to think that it’s quite sad that a nation that gave birth to incredibly famous engineers, world-renowned scientists and inventors who shaped the world was so focused on services, and that manufacturing had kind of been left by the wayside. I loved the thought of physically manufacturing a product that came out of a machine in Scotland and could travel the world. So there was a bigger motivation there.

GM: But having an idea, and having it in your head that you wanted to do something … there is an awfully long way before you actually get to be an inventor, and to producing something in Scotland that you then sell.

AG: There are some inventors who are quite methodical about how they invent, so they will look at a problem, they will look at, perhaps, existing patents, and they will look at developing an idea further – that’s one kind of inventor. But the other kind of inventor, or perhaps invention, is one that you simply can’t plan. You can’t plan a eureka moment, and the time when I thought about trays, and about the ridiculous way that they’re made, I leapt out of my chair when I came up with that idea. It was literally a moment of a flash, a bubble that just popped on my head, so that I didn’t really plan.

However, after that, because I had this motivation to physically manufacture a product, I knew, as soon as I saw my sketch on a bit of paper, I thought, “that is the one, that is the one”. Within a couple of weeks I’d stopped doing all events. I knew it would take all of my time and energy to devote myself to this product.

GM: Unfortunately this is radio, but describe to us what makes this different to a [normal] tray?

AG:  Although you can’t see this, the Safetray has a clip on the underside. Now you don’t notice it because it just stacks up normally like a regular bar tray, but when you pull it off a bar or a surface, it comes down and it presses against the back of your knuckles. It means that when there is a heavy weight, even an entire bottle of wine right on the edge of the tray, you use your knuckles to control the tray, to keep it horizontal, so you can confidently do single-handed service without fear of the tray becoming unbalanced and toppling over.

GM: It is amazing. So you had this idea, you had your sketch, what happened then?

AG: Well, I looked into how, when you have an idea, can you go about outsourcing things like someone to do the CAD drawings, and somebody to source the manufacturing company? I learned about how you can protect your idea with things like Non-Disclosure Agreements, and that’s what I set about doing. I found a product design consultancy, Fearsomengine in Glasgow, and rather than pay them for their services, I gave them equity in the company, because I wasn’t a cash-rich entrepreneur. I had a business that really paid for my life, but not a great deal else.

GM: Did there come a point where you would say to people that you’re an inventor? When did that happen, or has it happened? Is that what you say you are?

AG: It’s difficult when someone asks what you do, because the invention happens in a flash and then everything else is selling the product, pulling together a good team, raising money, all the other roll-your-sleeves-up hard bits. It starts to feel a bit false, saying you’re an inventor, because it seems like it’s such a long time ago. But recently, now that we’re starting to develop new products, there’s another few patents that will be coming out, and again I feel like an inventor.

GM: Just tell me about the scale of the company you’ve got now, before you go into the new products and expanding in whatever way. What is the scale?

AG: There are four operational staff and there’s a board of five. We export across five continents now, and our major markets have been America, the Middle East and Australia. It’s been a very full-on year of travelling, which sounds very glamorous but it’s quite exhausting actually! But it’s necessary and it’s very exciting to think of these Safetrays, which were just a sketch on a scrap of paper three years ago, going to countries that I’ve never even been to before, swirling around these incredible venues, from salsa venues to pizza restaurants, to high-end bars serving celebrities in LA. It’s just a very exciting thing to be part of.

GM: What pieces of advice could you give to people who are early in the journey of inventing something?

AG: My advice would be that it’s not an easy ride, and that you can’t be disheartened by that. You fill find that there are always more people who oppose you than support you when it’s a game-changing item, and so rather than take that personally, just understand that and embrace it, and understand why people react against innovation. Try to understand the psychology behind that, instead of being hurt by it. Looking back, the most painful experiences have actually been the most enhancing to me as a person. It might not feel like it at the time, but no pain, no gain.

GM,VO: Alison Grieve. We met at the BBC canteen; her office is off-limits because they’re testing new, top-secret products.

Posted on November 26, 2012 .

First Minister praises Alison Grieve in conference speech

CEO Alison Grieve spoke at the Business in the Parliament conference last month, and was praised by First Minister Alex Salmond in his opening speech.

Click below to watch the full video. The section where the First Minister mentions Alison begins at 46:20.

"The next generation of people to emulate is here amongst us today, and with us in the communities of Scotland. The people ... here range from Alison Grieve, whose Safetray business was established two years ago but is now exporting to Europe, North America and the Emirates, to Jim McColl who famously started as an apprentice at Weir Pumps and is now Chief Executive of Clyde Blowers, a company that employs thousands of people across the planet."

Posted on July 6, 2012 .

Safetray featured by Business Gateway

Click on the link below to read the full story.

"Safetray was invented as a consequence of a spectacular accident involving a tray-load of champagne falling over at an important event, causing glass and champagne to go everywhere, which was costly, and dangerous, and embarrassing.

Because of that disaster, a wonderful thing was born, which was Safetray, a tray that doesn't topple over regardless of what is put on the surface.

Over half of our business is predicted to be in the States. We've already sold all over the USA, from Alaska to Puerto Rico, from San Fransisco to New York, and on to Canada. We've sold into the United Arab Emirates, so we've had a lot of success because it really is a global product.

I spoke to an adviser at Business Gateway at the very beginning of the process. He put us on to the high growth pipeline; access to finance was one way that they helped us. Also, in giving us tools that are absolutely essential in growing a business, such as templates for building business plans, tools for effective forecasting and additionally being a friendly and proactive support on the end of the telephone.

It's extremely important that you keep in communication with Business Gateway. Think of them as you would do any supplier, or any customer, because it is a relationship, and you've got to build that relationship. Don't expect them to do everything for you, because that's not their job. Their job is to inform you when you ask for help, so keep asking for help because it is available, and there are incredible resources there to tap into."

Posted on February 12, 2012 .

Safetray used in UK Government campaign

A campaign, launched by the UK Government and supported by Start-Up Britain, to encourage people with the twinkle of an idea in their eye to start a business decided to use Safetray as one of a select few case studies to front the project. Here's the video that was shot in London after a fairly early start for our CEO Alison Grieve. Read the full interview by clicking on the link below.

"I remember the moment when I was thinking about accidents involving trays toppling over, and when I came up with the invention of Safetray, I literally leapt out of my chair, and I knew that I had to commercialise that invention.

When I first started, I had some savings from a previous business, but I didn't have a lot of money as an entrepreneur. So, rather than pay for services, I gave away a share of equity in return for services from a product design consultancy. That really helped to boost the business at a critical early stage, and get us moving forward really quickly. Laterly I just closed an investment round, so I sold a share of equity in return for funds, and that is going to help us grow the business exponentially over the next three years.

Well now, my boss is my customer, my clients, and to a certain extent the staff that I'm taking on and the other board members. They're my bosses, and I think that's the best way to look at your own business. It's always good to be serving someone.

There's so much freedom in having your own business, and an incredible amount of pride that comes from having started something from nothing and then taking it to be a global product, and from being able to employ people, and all the wonderful feelings of satisfaction that brings.

I would say that the most important thing to remember in business is belief in what you're trying to do and never lose sight of that. If you're really determined to do something, then there's always a way. Even at times when everything seems disasterous and there are problems with production if it's a product, or major problems with customers if it's a service, everybody goes through those really dark times in business, that's just part of it, but it's to keep that belief and to keep finding solutions to problems, and you'll always find a way.

I'm already exporting Safetray, we sell to companies in America, in Canada, in United Arab Emirates, and we have plans to go all over the world because it is a truly global product. It is tricky, export, you have to be aware of a lot of different legal systems, you have to be aware of the importance of logistics, because what you don't want is for your customers to have a bad experience in whatever market you're going to commercialise.

However, the belief that export is more risky than just sticking to your own domestic market is not true, in my experience. I would say that it's been less risky for my business. The decision to split our stock and send half of it to America was perhaps the best decision I ever made for the business.

I would say to anyone thinking about export, certainly research, as you would do your own domestic market, but don't be scared. It really is possible, and there's a lot of support available in the UK, offered by the government, to help you export."

Posted on January 31, 2012 .

Safetray interviewed live on BBC News 24

Not content with her interview on BBC Radio Four's PM programme earlier on today, our CEO Alison Grieve trundled on down to the TV studios to get herself on first name terms with the Shadow Business Secretary. Ooh!

Jon Sopel: There's mixed news tonight for thousands of British companies and the millions of people who work for them. New figures show that while UK banks are ahead of schedule for overall lending to business, they've fallen a billion pounds short of their target for small- and medium-sized firms under an agreement with the Treasury, called Project Merlin. Alison Grieve runs a business in Scotland called Safetray, and struggled to get her bank to lend her company money when she first approached them earlier this year. She joins us now from our studio in Edinburgh.

JS: Thanks very much for joining us. So, how is your business going?

Alison Grieve: Well, our business is going very well now. We were able to get a small overdraft from the bank, and even just a small amount did go an exceptionally long way in supporting our exports. We were able to go to a trade show in Chicago, and at that show we made substantial sales, which then allowed us to ship the machine that makes our product back from where we were manufacturing in the Far East. We set up manufacturing in the UK, which is great for the economy here.
JS: Do you thank Project Merlin for that, or is it just good relations with your local bank manager?

AG: I think that Project Merlin has gone some way to put pressure on the banks to lend to small- and medium-sized businesses; there's still a lot more that could be done. My company is one of many that's on a high-growth pipeline and I know that very few of them have managed to receive any bank funding whatsoever. Actually, our company decided to go down the angel investor route, selling a share of our company in return for funds.

JS: What more would you like to see being done now, if you could wave a magic wand?

AG: I think it's about the banks recognising the different types of start-up businesses. There are some that are very much lifestyle businesses, and could have steady growth along a long period of time. But there are others, like a Facebook, for instance, which was an exceptionally high-growth company and one of the most resounding success stories of the last 100 years, commercially-speaking. They wouldn't have received funding at an early stage, because of the way banks value early-stage companies, as opposed to the way an investment angel would.

JS: Alison Grieve, very good to talk to you, thank you for being with us on BBC News. Let's speak now to the Shadow Business Secretary, Chuka Umunna, who is in our Westminster studio. A very good evening to you, thanks for being with us. I know if you could wave a magic wand, you'd change the government and you'd be in power yourself, but short of that, what do you think the government could, should be doing?

Chukka Umunna: Well, it's interesting hearing Alison speaking there, and I'm pleased that at least her business is doing well, that's fantastic news. There is a problem, though, with the way the finance sector is serving business today. I think part of the reason that we're not getting money out of the door to SME's in particular in this country, is that one of the things that's holding them back from going and approaching banks for finance is the economic outlook. Vince Cable, when he took over the department I shadow, the Business department, said that it was supposed to be the Department for Economic Growth. The simple fact is that since he took over we haven't had enough growth in our economy, because of the too-far, too-fast deficit reduction strategy that his government is imposing. That's one part of it. The other part is actually just the general culture, Alison touched on it there, of our banking system. The banks say, "We don't lend, because there's not enough demand." But at the same time we see people running small businesses using their own personal finance, credit cards or overdrafts to finance their businesses, which to me would demonstrate that there is a demand there. But there's a problem, A. with the money getting out of the door, and B. with the actual culture - does a bank have a local relationship manager, does it actually bother to get to know the business, or does it put the business on the phone to somebody in some remote location who doesn't really understand the context of the business?

JS: But Alison was also saying there that the banks had helped and it was largely thanks to Project Merlin.

CU: Well, no, she didn't say that it was largely thanks to Project Merlin.

JS: She was very supportive of it. She said it had helped.

CU: No, Jon, you're slightly misinterpreting her words there, because she said she thinks it has helped put some pressure on the banks. The point is it hasn't put enough pressure. We've got stakes in two of the largest banks, and the government needs to use its influence, through UK Financial Investments, which holds and runs our stakes in those banks, to make sure they get the money out of the door. But as I said, the other part of the equation is to get growth back into the economy, get demand back into the economy, to give companies and businesses the confidence to go out and get finance to expand. The problem is that they just don't have that confidence at the moment.

Posted on November 14, 2011 .

Diary of a Start-Up: Safetray Makes its Festival Debut

Diary of a start-up - Safetray makes its Festival debut
By Alison Grieve on Aug 27, 10 10:27 AM in Diary of a Start Up

My nails dramatically decreased in size during the month of July. I nervously nibbled as I awaited the first production units arriving from China, desperate for Safetray to play its own part in the largest arts festival in the world - a showcase in front of an international audience within my beloved hometown during Edinburgh's multiple festivals.

Leading up to the arrival I had been fed worrying snippets of information regarding the progress with the mould tool. The initial photographs were kept from me - Fearsomengine quite rightly deciding that a snapshot image of a mangled piece of plastic might be more upsetting than informative - and so it was a relief indeed to finally see (a fortnight ago) a physical embodiment of the Safetray looking actually rather handsome.

And so it was, at a stall in the glorious sunshine at Edinburgh's Foodies Festival in Holyrood Park, the very first Safetrays - hot off our production tool - were let loose on the general public; and what a reaction we received.

The most common reaction from people was the suggestion that we should go on Dragons' Den; the second was one of surprise that nobody had ever thought of it before.

A new reaction - limited to a handful of people, exclusively Scottish - was that Safetray is 'cheating'. A remnant of our Calvinist past, I imagine: if it makes our lives easier, it must be immoral. Curiously, I quite liked that perspective. Maybe it's the Calvinist Scot in me welcoming criticism.

The majority were overwhelmingly supportive and excited by the concept - especially those who were hospitality professionals. Our pre-order book was bulging by the end of the weekend, filled with trade buyers and consumers alike. With a few amendments to be made and our first substantial volume of the Safetrays only arriving in October, I was just sorry that we were not able to sell them on the spot.

An added bonus to Foodies was the amount of people who entered our competition: 'Should have used a Safetray'. The task? To be filmed recounting a tale of an accident involving a toppled tray. The prize for the most spectacular story was a bottle of Pol Roger Champagne, the winner of which is to be announced when we launch our retailing website with video-embeds via YouTube.

Over thirty people told us their stories. There were stories of A-list celebrities with food in their laps; a girl so fresh from a coffee spill accident that she was still wearing the bandages; red wine over a white shirt at a restaurant opening and an accident involving a customer being set alight with a toppled tray of flaming Sambucas. Yowzers.

We chose The Famous Spiegeltent to be the first venue to use the Safetrays in situ. One of only handful of its kind left in the world, this stunningly beautiful mirrored tent seemed a fantastic launch pad for our trays. Amidst acrobats hanging from ropes, strong men flinging scantily-clad ladies, jazz chanteuses singing their delicate standards and magicians turning doves into ducks, the Safetray made its own seemingly gravity-defying debut.

Glasshouse Events, who this year manage the bars in the Spiegel Garden, also work on the Golf Open, the Six Nations Rugby and The Grand National. It's exciting to think of the all events at which the trusty Safetray might be acting as a silent partner in service in the not too distant future.

Our final involvement in what has been a fantastic Edinburgh Festival for us was as finalists in the International Marketing Festival's Brands of the Future competition which took place at the Assembly @ Assembly Hall on the Mound.

I had felt slightly guilty asking friends and family along to what I thought would be a tedious morning of dry business presentations filled with cashflow sheets and buzz words from a bunch of poker-faced suits - not exactly a typical Fringe experience. It was, however, unexpectedly entertaining.

I found myself feeling utterly humbled onstage beside some truly inspirational Scottish businesses: the brilliant language website for children, GrowStoryGrow; fabulous tea house, Loopy Lorna's; parental godsend, Labels4Kids; the super-sexy bikers dream, Dakota Motorcycles; and, ultimate winners, the stylishly ethical Blue Marmalade.

Hosted by the personable and effortlessly funny Simon Fanshawe, the panel of judges included Bill Jamieson, Executive Editor of The Scotsman, and Graham Birse, deputy chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce.

It's easy to forget, when working so much of the time on my own, speaking to Fearsomengine mainly by phone, trying to fit more tasks into a day than I ever felt possible, that there are other ambitious (AKA completely stark raving bonkers) business men and women out there taking similar risks, becoming familiar with the same small hours and writing their own updated business plan and forecast for the forty billionth time.

And it's also easy to forget, in the middle of a festival famous for celebrating creative talent from all over the world, that we've got no small amount of talent and spirit right here on our very own doorstep.


Posted on August 27, 2011 .

Six things we can learn from a winner

Founder of Enterprise Nation and co-founder of StartUp Britain, Emma Jones writes about Safetray winning the Marketing 4 StartUp Britain award:

6 things we can learn from a winner

At last week’s Marketing 4 StartUp Britain Week, there was a competition for one small business to win a marketing agency for 12 months. Alison Grieve of Safetray was the worthy winner and there are six things I believe we can learn from her approach and excellent presentation.

Pitch perfect

Six companies were shortlisted by the Marketing Agencies Association (MAA) and asked to present their pitch at the finale event of Marketing 4 Start Up Britain week. The six finalists were:
Syndicate Room
Follow the flag
Armadillo Merino

They all presented very well and have great stories to tell but in the words of the MAA Chair, Ian Millner, ‘there can only be one winner’ and that winner was Alison Grieve of Safetray. The prize was well deserved and Alison’s story gives important pointers for all start ups:Gap in the market – Alison was working as an event manager when she witnessed a tray of champagne being spilled over delegates and costing venue management. Having been a waitress herself, she thought there must be a better way to hold and carry trays to avoid spillage. The idea was sparked and Alison started her journey to invent Safetray; a clever and simple invention that, as the company tagline says means you can have a tipple without topple! It’s worth watching the video here to see the tray in action.

Research, research, research – having spotted a gap in the market, Alison went on a research escapade. She researched other products, the hospitality industry and several versions of her own prototype. She continues to research her market today and is considering an expansion of the business by licensing her invention, as well as producing the end result.

Secure expertise – Alison knew she needed help to design the product and source a manufacturer so early on she elected to offer equity in the business to a company specialising in product design and development – this partnership continues to prosper.

Protect your idea – working with product specialists, Alison has secured worldwide protection for her invention in the form of patents and trademarks.

Be true to your vision – in hearing Alison present, you soon realise she is passionate about manufacturing in the UK. ‘As someone who has worked in the services industry’, Alison said, ‘I’m concerned we don’t manufacture much in the UK any more. I want to be able to manufacture the safetray here and offer jobs to people in the UK.’ As she said it, I couldn’t help believing that one day she will achieve this.

Be ambitious – This young business owner may wish for manufacturing in the UK but she also has sights set on expanding her company rapidly overseas. Indeed, this is why Alison entered the competition as she is particularly looking for help from a marketing agency to help her expand the brand and enter international markets. In a video interview, when asked where she would like to be in 12 months time, Alison responded “everywhere!”

Stay gracious – you could not fail to be impressed with what Alison has achieved and her plans for the future. Yet in her award acceptance comments she gave credit to all other competition entrants and said how much she is looking forward to working with them as these businesses grow.

It made me think you can have great aspirations for your business whilst remaining truly gracious. What a worthy competition winner.

Best wishes to Alison and to all the competition entrants. We will be closely following your stories!

Posted on July 27, 2011 .

Safetray wins Marketing 4 Start Up Britain Competition

On 8th July 2011 the final of a competition organised by the Marketing Agencies Association took place at the Hospital Club in London as part of the Start Up Britain campaign. Six finalists battled it out to win an outstanding prize - a year of free marketing support from Iris, the top agency in the UK.

Guess what happened...


Watch the summary video here.

Posted on July 25, 2011 .

Diary of a Start-Up: The IP Minefield

Diary of a start-up - The IP Minefield
By Alison Grieve on Jul 11, 10 04:06 PM

This week I thought I should talk about the various steps that were required to protect not just Safetray as a physical product but also our brand, before we were able to start shouting from the rooftops.

I, like all inventors, had to keep my idea a secret right up to the point of patent application. Non-disclosure agreements (or confidential disclosure agreements) can be acquired from the IPO website and signed by anybody you need to discuss your idea with before you are otherwise protected.

I had several friends try to push me into telling them what I had invented. Facetious guesses ranged from 'cancer-free cigarettes' to 'the wheel' to objects of pleasure not appropriate for inclusion in a business blog.

A visit to ICASS (Innovators Counselling and Advisory Service for Scotland) to meet with Alan Garratt was my first step in learning how to protect my idea and the Safetray brand. A qualified and highly experienced mechanical and production engineer, Garratt was at that time responsible for innovators based in the East of Scotland.

He explained that the four main areas of intellectual property protection are patents, registered designs, trademarks and copyright.

Many innovators make the mistake of opting for the lengthy and highly expensive patenting process without realising the complexities of this system.

The majority of new product designs, no matter how unique and innovative in form, do not fulfil the patenting requirements set out by the UK-IPO (formerly the Patent Office). The four criteria an invention needs to meet in order to secure its patent are that it must be novel, involve an inventive step, be capable of industrial application and must not fall within one of the categories specifically excluded (software, for instance, can be patented in the US but not in the UK).

Several searches through some of the world's most extensive databases of patents assured us that nothing like the Safetray had ever existed. The closest thing to it was a patent from the early-1920s involving a strap nailed to the bottom of a tray.

It filled me with a sense of both pride and wonder to think that nobody had thought to advance the concept for almost ninety years. I ponder now how many other inventions there might be floating around, yet undiscovered and unclaimed, awaiting their recipient's flash of inspiration.

With our 'novelty' factor confirmed, patent attorneys, Haseltine Lake, entered into discussions with us to ensure our 'inventive step' was fully explained and justified in our application.

Just the other day, we received a positive report back from the IPO examiner stating that they hadn't found any documents that might hinder our application. It was a relief indeed.

I can't imagine how devastating it must be to plough the best part of a year and all your life savings (and more) into a project only to discover someone on the other side of the world has thought of it two months before you did, but there are numerous instances of that happening since the history of patents began.

Design registration is a cheaper, simpler way to protect a product innovation if the value lies in its appearance rather than its function. It's important to note that you cannot apply for design registration before you apply for a patent - a fact that was thankfully pointed out to me by Alan Garratt. Design registration is particularly useful if your product's distinction from your competitors is visual.

The iPod, for instance, uses technology that was known for many years before Apple produced its version but an instantly recognisable design combined with their weighty brand is what made the product both successful and immediately identifiable.

Which leads me to our branding - quite a project in itself.

With quotes for an outsourced logo design coming in at around a thousand pounds, we decided to combine the creative efforts of myself and Fearsomengine and come up with our own design.

One of the early front runners in our hunt for a logo was of a waiter (we called him 'Logoman') stepping (or running) out of a warning triangle whilst holding a tray.

Although we liked Logoman and chortled inwardly about 'thinking outside of the triangle', we decided that having a warning symbol on our logo might not induce quite the emotional responses we were looking for.

After endless debates and design files being sent backwards and forwards, the font was chosen by Fearsomengine, I then extended the cross in the 't' and placed a bottle and glass on it, and Fearsomengine created an overlap to make it look more contemporary. Using a white logo on a black background was chosen for its impact and ease of use within the hospitality industry.

We were all happy with the result - or perhaps just so sick of discussing it that we had no energy left to even look at other possibilities. Whichever it was, the logo was well received and didn't cost us a penny.

With the logo immediately plastered all over business cards and rapidly handed out at various meetings and events, I worriedly looked out the notes I had taken on trademarks.

One concern I had with registering the logo was whether 'Safetray' would be considered fairly self-explanatory. You can't register a trademark that literally describes the product.

For instance, my journalist friend was joking about inventing a bra for men the other day. If she were to turn her joke into a reality, under the current UK trademark rules she couldn't register 'male bras' for her brand name but she could probably go for 'moob tube'.

You are also prevented from registering a logo with an image that is too descriptive. Our Logoman, for instance, would have ended up being rejected.

A quick call to Alan Garratt assured me that so long as the extended 't' logo was stylised with the bottle and glass on top, it wouldn't matter that it was a safe tray called 'Safetray'.

Just to be sure, I used the IPO's Right Start Examination Service. This service allows you to have your trademark examined before you commit to submitting it. You still pay half the money up front, but it means you won't lose the whole lot if your application is unsuccessful.

I submitted the logo online and heard a few weeks later that it had met the requirements of the IPO. I was delighted.

I would always recommend using a patent attorney for your patent if you think you have a good chance of having it registered, but having learnt the process for trademarks - and receiving invaluable support from Alan Garratt at ICASS - my opinion is that expensive legal support for protecting your logo is unnecessary.

Besides, like a lot of the experiences through the Safetray journey to date, it was more of an adventure to learn how to do it myself.


Posted on July 11, 2010 .

Diary of a Start-Up: Pleasing Some of the People

Diary of a start-up - Pleasing some of the people, some of the time
By Alison Grieve on May 7, 10 11:20 AM in Innovation

I grew up in a household with a permanently revolving front door. It was a bit like living in the transit lounge of Heathrow Airport, with visitors from New Zealand, Romania, India, France, Canada and many others, breaking bread at our family's kitchen table.

This diversity of social interaction provided me with a patchwork quilt of influence and aspiration. It taught me the importance of tapping into to the knowledge and experience of others in order to broaden my horizons and deepen my understanding of how the world works.

It is a lesson that I have applied throughout my career but never more so than since embarking upon the Safetray project. This week I thought it might be useful to provide an overview of some of the people who have been played a big part in guiding me through the Safetray journey so far.

My first port of call after agreeing verbally to partner up with Fearsomengine was John Hughes at Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce. Contracted out to Scottish Enterprise, John advises high-growth start-ups on how to access the various funding routes and support mechanisms available.

I cannot emphasise enough how helpful John Hughes has been in putting us in touch with the right people. Meetings were organised with angel networks; seminars were booked with innovation giants; applications were completed for grants and loans - all with a healthy dose of encouraging enthusiasm. They talk about blue sky thinkers - John's thinking stretches to the ozone layer without a volcanic ash cloud in sight.

To me, an accountancy firm should be more to a business than simply a number cruncher. For that reason I annoyed Shaun Millican of Johnston Carmichael with a barrage of phone calls to ensure our place on his client list. I had met Shaun previously through the business network, Thrive For Business, and quickly established that he was the kind of player I'd want on my team. Choosing the wrong accountancy firm at an early stage would have been disastrous and it was not a mistake that I was willing to make.

I like working with Shaun because I always feel like I've had a bit if a mental workout by the time I leave his office. He is strict with us and tells us things that we don't always want to hear. Like all proper workouts, you know when it hurts that it's good for you.

There are a couple of investment guys who I have also found to be an invaluable source of expertise. As with so many things that I'd like to write about in this diary but am unable to for reasons of commercial sensitivity, I cannot reveal too much about their backgrounds or the purpose of our meetings. What I can say is that both these individuals have managed to ask questions that initially I didn't even fully understand, let alone have an answer for:

"What's your hedging strategy on currency exchange?"


"Who swallows the cost of a rise in oil prices?"


It's all good stuff and helps to advance the business brain. Without being asked the difficult questions I would never have known that the answers even existed.

This project has consistently forced me further and further away from my comfort zone. I feel stretched and challenged, flexed and expanded. While the learning process has felt like a good workout, the wealth of support and expertise coming from the Scottish business community has felt like my supply of protein shakes to keep me strong and able to grow.

If there is one piece of advice that I would impart upon another start-up, it would be to seek out the major players from a variety of disciplines to put you through your paces. It will always feel painful but you'll emerge a stronger business person in the long term.


Posted on May 14, 2010 .

Diary of a Start-Up: If Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Diary of a start-up - Week 3: If necessity is the mother of all invention...
By Alison Grieve on Apr 11, 10 04:14 PM

The Observer Book of Invention describes the difference between invention and innovation as this:

'Invention is turning money into ideas; innovation is turning ideas into money.'

When I went for my first surgery with Scottish Enterprise in 2009, they asked me whether we had considered licensing our idea to avoid the pain of both manufacturing and the commercialisation of a new product.

Whilst I understood the benefits of a grab-the-money-and-run method of getting Safetray produced and out into the marketplace, I did wonder what that said about our national psyche.

Are us Scots completely incapable of producing and commercialising products ourselves? Do we really want to define ourselves as a nation of consultants and service providers all selling to each other?

We are historically a nation of engineers, of ground-breaking scientists, of inventors who have shaped the world.

But none of these strokes of genius - from Dolly the Sheep to the advent of the television - would have been possible without the vision to communicate them beyond the confines of our shores .
In the context of Safetray, our product would remain dusty and bitterly abandoned on the shelves of an (un)fulfilment company's warehouse if we didn't have a clear and ambitious strategy for selling its benefits to the marketplace.

Having decided that licensing wasn't an option, we set about defining our value proposition.

The cost, danger and embarrassment of toppled trays very quickly became the three front runners for motivating the industry to engage with Safetray.

With our USP's down pat, I needed to find a way of putting ourselves in front of key industry players. After all, it's all fine and well to have slap-you-in-the-face USPs but if you don't back them up with sales activity, the words would remain redundant on a website that nobody ever looks at.

With this in mind, I trawled through the internet hunting for events that would provide the greatest amount of exposure.

I found the British Hospitality Association's website an invaluable source and I found the Hospitality Action Suppliers Forum advertised under their events section.

The nine-hundred pound price tag was not to be taken lightly at a time when we're watching every single penny, but with fourteen guaranteed meetings with key industry buyers, our decision to attend was a no-brainer.

In past sales roles that required getting in front of senior decision makers within major blue-chip companies it would sometimes take me six months of steadily chipping away, using every conceivable angle and lashings of ingenuity, just to get through to them for a two minute phone call, let alone finding space in their diaries for a meeting.

With a prototype in hand, we sat down at The Hatton on Thursday morning of last week, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the delegation of key purchasers in charge of multi-million pound budgets.

I had no real expectations beyond the event being something of a fact finding mission and a way of gauging the industry's reaction.

It was certainly that... and a whole lot more.

From the very first meeting onwards the response was overwhelming. On the basis of a one minute pitch - it's not a difficult product to explain - we had guys jumping in their seats and telling us that we had made their day.

A promise of putting us in touch with two major catering companies was made almost immediately and the tone of what was to be an exceptional day was set.

We had top buyers taking out their mobile phones and providing us with the personal numbers of MDs of the nation's biggest distributers.

We were given direct contact details for Operations Directors, Purchasing Managers and even CEOs.

We even had guys - substantial players in the industry - who I hadn't managed to get a pre-arranged meeting with coming up to me and asking to see the tray that everyone had been talking about throughout the day.

My favourite quote of the day was from a heavyweight buyer who was putting me in touch with the MD of their usual event rental equipment supplier:

"Use my name. Tell her I said that we need this in our business so she needs it in hers. It's non-negotiable."

The Sales Director of the Park Hyatt in Sydney - following a breakfast meeting arranged before the event - excitedly agreed to trial the tray in what is one of Australia's most exclusive hotels.

My head was buzzing by the end of the day and my book filled with the direct contact details for some of the biggest hospitality suppliers in Europe, as well as personal recommendations from some of their most important clients.

If Carlsberg did a day of selling...

I knew the second I thought of the idea that it was something special but it is easy to forget the excitement of that eureka moment when your head gets lost in financial forecasts of an imagined future and serial negotiations for loans, grants and support.

And I'm sorry to add, it's hard to keep up the momentum of ambition in a country so quick to focus on all the possible negatives.

Come on, Scotland, get it together and 'be a proud nation again'.

Connecting directly with the market has reminded me of all the reasons for inventing the tray in the first place and reconnected me to that intense feeling of excitement I had in Safetray's initial stages.

Invention may turn money into ideas but in the case of Safetray, the innovation part is looking more than a little bit juicy.

Posted on April 11, 2010 .

Diary of a Start-Up: The Path to Product

Diary of a start-up - Week 2: The path to product
By Alison Grieve on Mar 21, 10 09:02 PM

It seems a particularly relevant week to be talking about the multiple steps in our design process to have led Safetray to the stage it is at now.

If rumours are to be believed, our design process involved me scribbling down some sketches of an adapted food and drinks tray, sending them over to Fearsomengine and, BINGO, we had ourselves a revolutionary product.

How I wish it was that simple.

Fearsomengine were involved very early on in the design process. They wanted to have a look at a variety ways of stabilising trays before committing with certainty to my original idea of having some sort of solid retractable device that would slide in-between the fingers of service staff to provide the required support.

Our first focus group consisted of three waitresses who had worked in France, the States and the UK. We discussed how they picked up, carried and stacked trays. Actions they had repeated literally thousands of times in their lives were suddenly under scrutiny and their comments were fascinating.

Fearsomengine got to work with a number of possible designs which were then debated ferociously between us.

We picked three of the strongest designs for Fearsomengine to adapt, modify and add the special magic which only they can do.

The much improved trays were then brought back to our focus group to watch them using them as they would in a hospitality setting.

Two hours and a dramatically smashed wine bottle later and we had picked our winner.

We had initially considered approaching existing manufacturers of the bog-standard trays in China to ask them to make modifications so that we could retrospectively attach our 'clever bit' but we knew that until our patent was registered, discussions with anyone in the industry could lead to their own brainstorm and possibly to our idea being snatched before we were protected.

An extensive IP landscaping exercise was conducted to ensure our product was sufficiently inventive to secure a patent and during that process we discovered several designers who had looked at the very same problem in the past.

We were however relieved to discover our invention could prove 'meaningful differences', changing the function and capabilities of trays in a way that was to that date unknown - a necessary requirement for anyone looking to secure a patent.

But with the knowledge that we were onto a winner came even greater levels of secrecy and in the end we decided to hold off any discussions with manufacturers until our patent application was finally registered at the beginning of this month.

A registered patent does offer some comfort in its protection but it would be inadvisable for us to shout from the rooftops quite yet. I had, once upon a time, believed that there must be some sort of Patent Angel who would swoop down on any copycats and carry them off to the Anti-Parasite Court to be sentenced and eliminated with immediate effect.

Even if you do locate copies, which you have to do proactively and on your own budget, you need strong legal presence globally and a lot of money to back it up.

And it's not as if copycat products come with business cards attached with Mr. Rip Off's name in bold and all their contact details found at

The reality is that copies are almost inevitable once a product becomes commercially successful.

Deciding to manufacture the tray ourselves instead of using existing tray manufacturers with their distribution networks already established will at least buy us a little time.

Our client-ready prototypes will be with us by the end of this month to take round to excited hotel, bar and restaurant groups but we will need to make some big decisions about how we intend to satisfy the resulting orders.

We are still debating whether or not we should manufacture the 'clever bit' separately but, with a trusted manufacturer secured through Fearsomengine's agent in China, we are leaning towards getting the whole thing done in one place. This will save the inevitable time it would take to iron out any manufacturing glitches if we had to liaise between two separate factories.

With China producing some of the best reverse engineers in the world, Mr. Rip Off may well make his copies but we hope that a rapid commercialisation programme will minimise the damage and, with some pennies in the bank further down the line, we might just be able to hire that Patent Angel after all.

Posted on March 21, 2010 .

Diary of a Start-Up: An Introduction

Alison has been asked to contribute a weekly diary of her experiences of starting a new business for newspaper Business 7.

Diary of a start-up - Week 1: An introduction to Safetray
By Alison Grieve on Mar 16, 10 09:16 AM

I have often wondered, when reading articles about such occurrences as housewives inventing devices for monitoring domestic energy consumption, how it is that somebody with absolutely no background in design or engineering can simply come up with an idea, have it manufactured and then bring it to market with lucrative rewards to follow.

Over the next few months I will be writing this diary to explain the ways in which I became that 'somebody' and to outline some of the pains and gains I experience along the way.Perhaps at this point I should introduce myself. My name is Alison Grieve, a 32 year old single mother of twin boys living in Edinburgh.

After ten years of clocking up sales and marketing experience in Manchester, Australia and London, working for companies such as the QS Network and Lexis Nexis, I returned home to have my boys in 2004.

I set up my events business, Sine Events, in 2006, fitting in what work I could (often working well into the night) whilst enjoying life with my boys.

In the summer of 2009, at an event I was managing for a network of international law firms, I watched in horror as a waitress lost control of a tray laden with champagne, spilling the contents all over the delegation's table of carefully placed name badges, smashed glass strewn across the venue just moments before the managing partner of the host firm was due to arrive.

Not a good look. But, as it transpired, an inspiring one.

Fast-forward a few months - I was sitting, munching my lunch in an office in Edinburgh when the idea struck me.

Why was there no support for service staff on the underside of trays?

An item used extensively throughout the hospitality industry, carrying not only glass items but also sometimes piping hot liquids, was completely unsafe.

And so it was, a few moments of silent brainstorming over such things as how a flip-flop attaches itself to a foot (daydreaming - I knew it would serve me well one day) and the Safetray concept was born.

The first thing I did was to call Fearsomengine.

I had seen them referred to in a number of articles about successful commercial products, such as Bladerunner, Uloop and Puffersphere, and had subsequently introduced myself at a networking event.

I was aware of a few product design companies at that time but Fearsomengine had the edge for me. They were young, dynamic, creating punchy intelligent designs and helping their clients to achieve considerable commercial success.

The meeting with Alan Suttie, founding director of Fearsomengine, was positive.

An old boss of mine used to say that the most important rule to be aware of when building business relationships was that 'people buy people'. That day, with non-disclosure agreements signed and witnessing Alan's eyes widen at the potential goldmine I'd outlined before him, I bought Alan.

He offered me three options: I could pay for their consultancy and retain all of the intellectual property; I could give them a percentage share of profits or I could enter into a joint venture agreement with them and hand over a percentage share of the company in its entirely.

I knew instinctively that a joint venture company was the right decision for me both financially and strategically but I would never, ever encourage anybody to hand over a chunk of their business -particularly one with such strong commercial potential - without giving considerable thought to what they are getting themselves into.

After phoning Jonathon Harris, editor of Young Company Finance, to ask him to recommend an appropriate law firm he pointed me in the direction of MBM Commercial. And so it began - a painful six months of legal negotiations to reach a deal that was both motivating for Fearsomengine but that left me with the level control appropriate to drive the company forward.

Although the percentage split was quickly established, the real difficultly lay in what our expectations were for what each party would bring to the table. It felt a bit like signing a pre-nuptial agreement - you have to continually focus on all the negatives rather the positives before you've even left the starting block.

Running in parallel to the legal negotiations was the work I put into being placed on Scottish Enterprise's High Growth Pipeline - a scheme established to provide advice, support and (for the lucky ones) funding opportunities.

I had originally thought that the process would be fairly straightforward. I was wrong. To get onto the pipeline you need to prove that you have export potential, that you won't be putting anyone out of a job in Scotland and that you have significant financial growth forecast.

The documents required to be compiled in order to enter the pipeline are extensive. I had to complete a full three-year forecast, a detailed business plan and had to be interviewed in a Dragons' Den style dissection of the business plan and our figures.

The challenge of detailing figures based entirely on an imagined future was not one that I had experienced before.

The research team at Scottish Enterprise were helpful in locating appropriate industry reports from sources such as Datamonitor and Mintel and provided a good foundation upon which to base my projections without sticking my hand in the air and plucking figures from the sky.

Although the process may have been a painful one, it did help me to gain a very clear idea of costs and timelines and highlighted the stages at which we would be most financially stretched.

Researching methods of easing early stage financial burdens, such as invoice financing through Bibby Financial, helped me to plan a realistic route through the gaping gaps we had forecast for the first six months of Safetray Products trading.

Finally, in December 2009, we were accepted onto the Growth Pipeline. The next stage was to gain the ever-allusive Innovation Support Grant - a grant available to high growth companies who develop some form of innovative product, process or service. Various forms, emails and stalker-esque behaviour later and we had our grant approved.

I am aware of the criticism that Scottish Enterprise have received regarding the allocation of such grants. I have given it some thought after going through the application process myself.

As a start-up in the current economic climate, there was absolutely no way that Safetray Products was going to receive any financial support from the bank.

Opening our bank account in the first place took a considerable amount of time and, even once opened, we were provided with no sensible way of accessing the £10,000 pot of money we immediately transferred into our account.

In fact, at the time of writing this we still haven't received the details of our digital or telephone banking which means that our only method of payment is to physically go into our branch to do a CHAPS transfer - with a charge of £24 for the privilege - or write a check. Anyway, I digress...

High-growth start-ups usually go hand-in-hand with high levels of risks. These are not risks the banks can immediately underwrite. Angels and venture capitalists might take those risks but not without taking a chunk of your business, sometimes with pretty aggressive terms attached, in return.

Scottish Enterprise can fill that gap in funding, making the difference between an innovation rocketing or nose-diving, but have got to justify every penny to the tax payer.

Innovation may be a risky area in which to invest, and it's well-documented whenever Scottish Enterprise make a boo-boo, but without them taking that (all-be-it bureaucratically) calculated risk many start-ups, including our own, could perish like seeds without water.

Now that I've bored you with a little of the legal and financial background I'll leave you for today but I'll return next time with details of the product itself, the initial stages of marketing and of how to keep a secret for six months while you wait for a patent to be registered.

Posted on March 16, 2010 .