Interview: 2013's Creative Business Cup UK Winner & Ode co-creator Lizzie Ostrom

Earlier this week, we announced the UK finalists for this year's Creative Business Cup, a competition designed to highlight and nurture innovative emerging talent. To showcase just how beneficial the process can be to young companies, we caught up with 2013's UK winner Lizzy Ostrom, creator of the fragrance healthcare product Ode. 

During our chat, Lizzie recalls how Ode got involved with the Creative Business Cup, offers invaluable pitch and preparation advice to future applicants and reveals how beneficial winning the competition has been for her company and could be for yours...

Can you give us a quick overview of Ode and how the idea for the product was formed?

Sure, Ode is a fragrance release product and it's been designed to tackle issues associated with the ageing healthcare market. It's basically a bit like a smell alarm clock and it's been designed to help remind people who are experiencing malnutrition and who have lost interest in food, to eat. So we're basically connecting fragrance with a purpose, and creating a product for quite a different market which is social and healthcare. The product is a co-venture between me and Roger Zine; we are both industrial and product designers. I work in fragrance and I could see that there was a gap in the market in how you could use scent in a more applied way. If you look at the size of the healthcare market, whether that's home fragrance in candles or whether its things like malodour control, it's a substantial global market but there didn't seem to be as many players in the area of well-being. We conducted lots of visits to care homes to see how important sensory stimulation is for someone who's being nursed or has dementia, and that's where the idea came from.

At what stage was the product at when you heard about the Creative Business Cup?

When we heard about the Creative Business Cup I think we were about to start trading. We were already part of a programme with the Department of Health which the UK Design Council ran called ‘Living Well with Dementia'; they were looking for very early stage new venture ideas, in particular people doing innovative things around healthcare including new ideas for Alzheimer's. We completed the programme and then conducted second stage research in evidencing the process. The UK Design Council were asked by Creative England to recommend some of the companies they'd been supporting, so when we found out about the CBC the design council said, "we're going to be nominating a few of the team's we've been working with, we want to nominate you are you happy with that?” and we said "yes please” and that's how it happened! 

What did you hope to get out of the Creative Business Cup?

With the CBC we were hoping to be able to have our business concept assessed outside of the healthcare sector. We had had lots of good feedback from care homes and from practitioners in that sector, but we hadn't really taken it to the wider business community and to the creative industries, and we wanted to find out if they thought it had potential. We didn't necessarily expect to win the UK competition but we wanted to be put to the test and put it through that process, we hadn't done anything like that to date.

Once you got involved how did you find the whole process?

The whole process was over quite a few months. we didn't hear anything for a few weeks [following submission of the application]... then we had a lovely surprise where we basically got a call saying that following an external panel assessment we had won. It did take us a long time to put our pitch together but it was nice that once it was done you didn't have to worry initially about doing lots of rounds; you could get on with other things whilst you wanted to hear the outcome.

What advice would you give those putting together a pitch for the Creative Business Cup?

The nature of the competition means that you have businesses entering that are at different stages; some are start-ups so they're still in prototyping mode, others are in an initial trading period and some are quite established in their scaling. So it's very useful to be very clear at what stage you're at and what you want to get from it, and to really articulate that in your application. I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing if you're early stage and don't have the much experience yet; we were very early stage but it's about being really clear, "this is where we are, this is what we've achieved so far and this is where we need to get to” because I think having that clarity helps you focus when you get to the later stages and what you want to get out of the networking opportunity. It was helpful that we were able to show our product and bring it to life, so the whole ‘show, don't tell' element worked very well and we put quite a lot of detail into the commercial plan as a result. It's important to marry the creative concept with the business potential.

At the other end of the spectrum, what were your thoughts when you found out you had won?

It was great; it was really helpful with a venture like Ode and the achievement has been a massive validation when talking with stakeholders or customers. It's been very helpful for us to be able to tell people that we were the UK winners last year. It's a sort of ‘feather in your cap' for people who don't know Ode and feel like they need to get to grips to it pretty quickly. Being able to describe it and what it's for, followed by the accolade is pretty much the most important thing

Looking back, how important do you feel the whole process has been for your company?

The UK competition was very useful, especially the mentoring; we were matched with a mentor called Travis Baxter who helped us prepare for Copenhagen. This was super brilliant because he met with us on a one-to-one basis and went through our business plan. We have since developed an ongoing relationship with him and we're now working with him to get investment, so it's actually been really valuable in the long term. The preparation you have to go through to be pitch-ready is, for me, the most valuable element. Overall the global completion was a great opportunity but it's actually the process of honing your story that I think is the most useful.

What opportunities do you think winning the CBC opened up?

Again I would say that the mentoring and the network in the UK, and bouncing ideas off the people you meet, has been very useful. Going back to the mentoring, Travis has been telling everyone about it and he's behind the product and business. In addition the staff at Creative England have been promoting and networking Ode so that's been really good in terms of getting in front of investors and advisors.

Do you feel, for start-up companies, the competition is a good thing to get involved with?

Yes. I think it's particularly good and especially for companies who are a bit more advanced than we were, because we weren't quite ready for international distribution. If we had been a bit further down the line [at Copenhagen] then I think we could have gone to the competition with a better plan for distribution etc. So I think for companies that are really ready to export, this international platform is really useful. I also think the process for developing pitches that enable you to talk about your company for two minutes, ten minutes or an hour, and knowing your numbers inside-and-out is incredibly helpful.

What advice would you give those hoping to apply - be prepared to have your product dissected?

Yes, I think so and especially when it gets to the later stages. We were very happy to win the UK competition but I would say that in order to win the global final your product, service or idea has to be really original. The global winner [a teddy bear that measured biometric data from children in a hospital or doctors environment] had a good story, so I think your story and the hook around your venture is really crucial when you're at the later stages. If you want to go all the way with your product you have to be thinking ‘game changer' or at least that the team and the combination of skills means that you're able to do something utterly new. I think if you're doing something slightly better than something that's already out there, you're not going to get noticed on this particular platform.

Bringing it back to Ode, what does the future hold?

We are soon going to be tooling-up for our manufacturing stage so that we can sell the product in bigger volumes and bring our price down. We were in the initial trading stage when we entered the CBC and we've since been signing-up stockists, developing the company, and getting investment in place. We're about to sign an order for a load of Odes which is very exciting!

And finally, what do you think it was that helped Ode win the UK final?

I think that the product is memorable and the story it's telling; it's very relatable because it's very human. I think when people were imagining the need for the Ode and who was going to use it, it was quite compelling. I think that it helped that it was about fragrance so it was a bit different and people were like "oh, I haven't seen anything like that before” and this helped get us in. I also think we had a strong rational for why the care and aging market is growing and why we think we could get a good level of business in that market. But ultimately it was really about going "look at this, it's really different, you haven't seen anything like this before” but not so wacky that people couldn't imagine it.

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