Sugru’s Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh on making a good idea stick

13 Jul 2017

Sugru’s Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh at Inspirefest 2017. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

An epiphany about wastefulness led Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh to want to fix things, she told Inspirefest.

Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, the Irish inventor who created ingenious mouldable glue called Sugru, is a success in 170 countries.

But that success was hard-won.

‘Human ingenuity is an amazing thing, but fixing things is only part of the puzzle’

Future Human

At the recent Inspirefest 2017 event in Dublin, Ní Dhulchaointigh revealed that there were plenty of lonely moments along the way, but her biggest triumph has been not only creating 70 jobs in London, but actually getting people to fix stuff again.

“Sugru is a mouldable glue that bonds to anything, to fix things and mend things. I invented it to get a new generation fixing again. It’s about being proud to be someone who fixes things, and this mindset is gaining momentum.”

She said that the Sugru community has so far fixed more than 10m things and, for this community, it is all about creating something that has joy and meaning.

Ní Dhulchaointigh said that humanity’s need for possessions that only get spurned is contributing to climate change.

“We want more and more stuff,” she said, but it is how we behave once we have these items that is the problem.

“There is too much waste in the world and it is causing massive problems; polluting water, air and ecosystems.”

Making momentum

People who are conscious of this are fixing things, and that’s where Sugru has found its mark.

Last March, London-based Sugru announced that it was holding another crowdfunding campaign to raise £1.5m to take the clever, mouldable glue international. Before this point, Sugru had already raised a total of £7.5m in both venture and crowdfunding capital. In May, Sugru confirmed it achieved the £1.5m target after more than 2,000 people invested in the company through the Crowdcube platform.

‘We believe fixing is never going to be done by finger-wagging, it’s all about inspiration’

Sugru has plans to launch this year in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, while also extending its reach in Europe.

A new, child-friendly Sugru formula is also scheduled to launch later this year as the first in a series of formulations designed to encourage more people to repair their things.

Retail players – including Adeo Group and the Kingfisher Group, along with two of the largest retailers in the US – are expected to give the company a significant boost this year.

“Human ingenuity is an amazing thing, but fixing things is only part of the puzzle,” Ní Dhulchaointigh told the Inspirefest audience.

“We believe fixing is never going to be done by finger-wagging, it’s all about inspiration.”

Ní Dhulchaointigh attributes social media and a keen base of Sugru users who rave to their family and friends about the product as being key to the success of her start-up.

“I never thought I would be an inventor,” she confessed. “Science was my least favourite subject at school, as was business studies, but here I am.

“I employ 70 people and have a factory and sell lots of stuff.”

An idea that is stuck together with God’s glue

Ní Dhulchaointigh said that her road to being an inventor and entrepreneur wasn’t a predictable one.

In fact, a realisation that the world had too much stuff and that this was adding to the climate crisis created a moral dilemma in her mind.

“I went to London to study to be a product designer and realised that actually all I would do would be to contribute to something awful. Do we need more tables, chairs, lamps, phones? … What’s the point?

“I had an existential crisis in a city far from home.”

It was while Ní Dhulchaointigh was doing an experiment for one of her courses that the premise for Sugru came about.

“It was a space-age rubber that anyone could fix or mend or manipulate stuff with. And I somehow found the courage to go into business.”

She admitted said that the start-up journey was daunting at first, and her foray into entrepreneurship unfortunately coincided with the financial crash, which was a “low moment”.

“It was easier to convince myself to do this than investors. Raising investment was the hardest thing I had to do.”

She decided to start small and see what would happen, and she even demoed her product at the Electric Picnic festival.

“We went to Electric Picnic, came up with a brand name, built a website and came up with cool packaging. It worked! 1,000 packs were sold out in six hours in 2010.

“It has never stopped since!”

Clearly, Ní Dhulchaointigh’s epiphany turned out to be an idea that would stick.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years