Sugru inventor inspired by wisdom of the crowd

26 May 2017

Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, inventor of Sugru. Image: Dan Dennison

Creativity is a growth engine, according to Inspirefest speaker Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, inventor of the wonder material Sugru. Claire O’Connell reports.

If you were to script a story about crowdfunding to grow your business, it could hardly have worked out better for Sugru, a mouldable glue with seemingly endless applications in the everyday world.

Invented to help people repair and improve things, Sugru moulds like play dough, then you stick it to a surface (or use it to join surfaces together, like reconnecting a saucepan and its broken handle), and it turns into a strong, flexible rubber overnight.

Sugru’s inventor and CEO, Kilkenny-born Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, initially came up with the idea for the material at the Royal College of Art in London.

Since Sugru’s launch in 2009, more than 10m single-use packs have been sold in more than 170 countries and territories worldwide. The company has recently doubled its manufacturing space in Hackney, East London, where it employs 70 staff.

Crowd success

But back to the funding story. While Sugru had previously raised funds using more traditional investors, including Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank, it was announced earlier this month that the company raised around £2m from 2,740 investors through the crowdfunding platform Crowdcube. Sights had initially been set lower, at £1.5m, but demand from investors led to overfunding.

Ní Dhulchaointigh told of her “excitement and relief” at the news. “The team worked their socks off and we nailed it,” she said. “It’s incredibly humbling to see members of the public support us in this way.”

This was not Sugru’s first time crowdfunding, though. In 2015, the company raised £3.5m, again surpassing their original target. So what is the secret to success for inspiring members of the public to invest?

Crowdfunding isn’t for everyone, and that’s something that the guys at Crowdcube are always very clear about,” said Ní Dhulchaointigh.

I think it has worked well for us because we have a unique and highly practical product, a clear company mission that people can get behind, and a very engaged community of users. We had a good starting point and then put all our efforts into making it a success. The whole team chipped in, with everything from hosting an event for potential shareholders, creating fresh content to share across social and now, of course, taking care of our brand new investors.”

Growth and creativity

Since the first crowdfunding round in 2015, Sugru has launched in France, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and the focus for the rest of 2017 will be to extend its reach in Europe as well as a launch in Canada, with Ní Dhulchaointigh speaking of exciting times ahead.

“We’ll be launching a brand new formula in September that will allow children as young as eight years old to use the product unsupervised,” she said. “It will be the first in a series of new formulations designed to encourage more people to fix and repair their things, so the money raised will help support these launches.”

Now that the business is growing rapidly, though, is it possible to continue to nurture the kind of creative thought that gave rise to the initial product? Absolutely, according to Ní Dhulchaointigh.

“Getting the right creative minds on board at all levels and establishing effective ways of sharing ideas as we grow is essential. It’s what feeds the machine at Sugru,” she said, recognising that it’s not just funding that comes from the public, but inspiration, too.

“Our millions of users show seemingly endless ways of creative problem solving, which we then build on with new projects and products, which then inspire others to fix or redesign the things around them.”

Start small and make it good 

With Inspirefest coming up in early July, Ní Dhulchaointigh also has a few ideas in mind that she will share at the event, but, in the meantime, her advice for inventors and innovators is sound.

“‘Start small and make it good’ was a piece of advice that served me well when the chips were down in the early days,” she said. 

“Investing in a good patent lawyer, depending on the product, would also be a wise move and, of course, trust your instinct. Taking advice and help in the early days is vital, but sometimes it’s when you start listening to your gut and acting on it that things start to come good.”

Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh will be speaking at Inspirefest, Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book now to get your Early Bird tickets.

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Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication