Meet the Spark 2019 Finalists

This year, another 10 ventures are selected as Design Council Spark programme finalists. Their challenge was to come up with bright ideas for independent living that will make life at home easier and better for all. Read on to find out about the products that will be refined and transformed over the next ten weeks before the Spark showcase in October.

SKÜMA: Customising mineral water

Daniel Kabagema, Electrical Engineer and Alexandre Yunus Mahé, Industrial Engineer

Water isn’t just for hydration. Minerals in water can provide a dietary benefit too. It is this opportunity that business partners Alexandre Yunus Mahé and Daniel Kabagema have taken advantage of, with their water purification and remineralisation product.

Alex and Daniel both come from countries where good tap water is not available. This was what inspired their interest in purification. “We originally wanted a way to get mineral water without having to carry heavy bottles around, or pay someone to deliver it for you,” says Alex, “the idea developed from there.” Customers with, for example, lactose intolerance, or who are pregnant, can use the product to make sure they get their daily dose of calcium naturally from the water they are drinking.

“The Spark programme will give us the focus we need to get our product to market,” says Daniel.

Washseat: Making personal hygiene easier for people with disability and infirmity

Andy Speechley, inventor of a raised seat bidet

A million new people every year, mainly the elderly, find they have to use a raised toilet seat. The same people often also struggle to clean themselves effectively and must rely on carers’ help, something that can cause distress and embarrassment. The raised seat effectively excludes them from using a bidet as there is nothing compatible on the market. Andrew Speechley has changed that with his idea for the raised seat bidet.

Andrew is no stranger to the inventing world; he has been featured in the iconic TV programme Tomorrow’s World and has patented several products. Ten years ago, after a friend suffered a stroke, he developed a commode that incorporated a bidet. His product was taken up by the NHS who made a worldwide compliant model and gave Andrew an Innovation Award. Fast forward ten years and Andrew has designed a second portable bidet for the Thalidomide Trust and has now turned his attention to the elderly with the project for Spark. “For me, my success on the Spark programme was a validation of the idea, proof that it was needed,” he says. “My ambition is to help everyone who struggles with personal hygiene in the bathroom to be able to clean themselves without having to rely on other people.”

The Koa Duvet Cover: Making people’s lives easier one duvet cover at a time

Ben King (pictured) and Luke Gray, co-founders of Koa

The duvet took off in the UK after Terence Conran popularised it in the seventies, revolutionising bed-making in the process. Now a British design duo is looking to reinvent the product again. Product designers Ben King and Luke Gray have created a duvet cover that is super-easy to change, and that can’t become misaligned, as the traditional duvet is inclined to do.

“We love a problem that is overlooked,” says Ben. “The duvet cover is a product that everybody uses every day. We wanted to create a solution to the hassle of changing it for everyone, from the person who just gets a bit frustrated, to people who, for whatever reason, find changing a duvet cover harder.” Ben and Luke worked together as designers at more than one company and discovered they both had a dream to create designs for themselves. They founded the company Koa and they hope that their new riff on the duvet cover will be the first of many homeware products. “Our ambition is to create a bedding brand that delights people with its invention,” says Ben.

Post-Surgery Underwear: Speeding the post-C-section recovery

Esher N’jie, designer of post-surgery underwear

The period after giving birth can be physically challenging for women who have had a C-section. Their underwear can exacerbate the problem. Esher N’jie, a former finance professional and mother of three, discovered this huge problem when she was researching an idea for postpartum underwear. She found that women who had given birth by C-section were disproportionately affected by pain and discomfort from their underwear. “The garments can stick to the wound,” she explains. “Or they roll down over it, causing irritation and pain, and that can contribute to infection. Currently, one in ten women are readmitted to hospital with post-surgery infections.” Esher’s found that, although there was underwear available to help to minimise scarring, the first and most crucial stage of healing, directly after the operation was not catered for.

Esher wants to end this discomfort with her idea for post-operative underwear. Her design will eliminate the major challenges that delay healing. This will speed recovery at a critical time when new mums need to be able to be responsive to their baby. “I just want all women to be able to take a deep breath of fresh air and enjoy that time after their baby is born,” she says. “Spark has helped me to understand much better where I am on the design cycle, and what I need to refine and iterate to take the product forward.”

Wish Cloths: Wiping away the world’s disposable wipes addiction

Helen Kemp, creator of an environmentally friendly wet-wipe alternative

The environmental problems associated with disposable wipes, and the possible issues with the chemicals in them, are well documented, taking up to 100 years to break down. After having a child, Helen Kemp was shocked to find that there weren’t any easy to use alternatives on the market. “I felt that I was trying to look after my baby, work, learn all this stuff about parenting, and make good environmental decisions,” she says, “but I was coming up against all sorts of barriers in terms of what was available on the market, and how much I could actually get done in a day.”

Helen put her frustration to good use and turned her kitchen into a makeshift lab. She began experimenting with making her own environmentally friendly cleansing solution, and her idea was born. "I would just love to make it easy for parents to ditch the wet-wipes," she says, "the Spark programme gives me access to the expertise I'll need to perfect my new product.”

stablspoon: An affordable self-stabilising spoon for people with hand tremors

Hemal Dias, designer of a self-stabilising spoon

When he was seven, Hemal Dias, now a third-year mechanical engineering student, was visiting a family friend and showing him a piece of schoolwork. The incident would stick in his head. “I remember him holding my book and his hand shaking so much,” he says. As Hemal grew older and continued to visit his friend, he became more aware of how difficult the tremor was making daily life, especially eating. “I’ll figure something out for you,” Hemal told him on one visit. That promise would come to be fulfilled in his third-year engineering project.

He created a self-stabilising spoon that cancels out the user’s tremors, at a fraction of the cost of current models on the market. “The Spark programme has already offered me a wealth of information,” he says, “both from the mentors and the other participants.”

Air-dri: Drying clothes in small spaces

Hilda Varley, inventor of a compact clothes hanger

Air drying clothes in a small space is not easy. You can quickly find your whole living space overtaken by airers and clothes hangers.

Hilda came up with the idea after struggling with her ironing pile. She found an over door hook in her son’s bedroom and started using that to hang her ironing. With a bit of product development experience already under her belt (British Female Inventor of the Year Awards Finalist in 2003 for an innovative clothing device), she immediately started asking herself how the hooks could work better. Just over a year later, Hilda is on the Spark programme to get as much guidance as possible into materials and manufacturing. “My ambition is to make this device as attractive as possible, but also economical to buy for the average person. I’d like it to be a common feature in small living spaces like flats.”

Bug Grip: The universal clamp that provides an extra pair of hands

Jennifer Lake, designer of Bug Grip

Any parent who regularly walks to the shops will know the difficulty associated with trying to push a buggy and carry a shopping basket, or push a shopping trolley, as well. Wheelchair users or those with walking aids have the same problem.

Jennifer Lake’s idea for Bug Grip, a universal clamp that can be used to temporarily fix two things together, came to her when she was shopping one day with her child in a pushchair. “The pushchair was going in one direction, and the trolley was going in another,” she says. Jennifer had sustained injuries after a fall at work, and her disabilities made the situation even more difficult. “On that occasion, I ended up giving up and leaving the shop with a few things,” she says. “Spark is an amazing opportunity to get the established brand of the Design Council behind my product, it has opened my mind to things I hadn’t even thought about.”

Wheelbie: A convertible shoulder bag and shopping trolley

Jonathan Nwabueze, designer of a convertible shopping bag trolley hybrid

Jonathan Nwabueze hopes that his idea of a convertible shopping bag trolley hybrid will appeal to everyone from fashion-conscious mums, to students, and the elderly.

The idea first emerged 11 years ago. Over the 8-years that followed, Jon would create two more iterations of his concept, inspired by trips to a sprawling Californian Sunday-market, and the daily struggle he saw people having with their shopping bags back in the UK – including a very public ‘bag-fail’ of his own, not to mention the ongoing plastic problem created by the use of disposable plastic shopping bags. By the end of 2018, Jon had completed four prototypes. Spark offers Jon the opportunity to complement his design skills and inventive attitude with design strategy, marketing, business strategy, and that all-important finish. “It will be my inaugural experience of taking a concept from idea to high street product” he says. “It will be invaluable as a template for repeats, but I also admire the more cooperative ideology of Spark, of giving a little back in return – rather than just for profit.”

Helping Hand: Helping make food preparation safe with smart materials

Ruby Gregory, student and inventor of a food safety glove

When Ruby Gregory watched her cooking-mad grandmother shy away from cooking after treatment for cancer, she knew she had to do something. "My Nan had nerve-damage from her treatment and couldn't hold knives or pans easily," she says. “As a result, she was getting cuts and burns when cooking and gave it up.”

Undeterred by the fact that she was in the middle of revising for her A-levels, Ruby persuaded her Mum to give her a day off her studies to enter the competition. Her idea was a food preparation glove that would protect against cuts and burns using smart materials. “I was just so angry that there was nothing at all out there for people like my Nan,” she says. Ruby hopes her product will help people for whom cooking has become too daunting. “I’d love to be able to produce different versions,” she says, “perhaps for children or people with learning difficulties, as well as the elderly.”

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