Creating world-class customer insight for the SME economy
With more young people than ever starting up a business in the UK, it was tremendous to see four young Welsh Entrepreneurs announced as winners in this year’s Young Innovator Awards – the Innovate UK programme for 18-to-30 year olds that’s co-funded by Cardiff Capital Region and fully supported by the Venture Skills & Talent hub.
Abbie Lawrence, Beren Kayali, Christian Berger and Matthew Richmond have each won the coveted Young Innovator Award for their ingenious new business projects – with these Welsh winners joining 59 other young people who are looking to change the world through their ground-breaking innovations.
As part of our #InnovationInAction campaign, we’re providing a platform for each of those extraordinary entrepreneurs, highlighting their importance as the next generation of experts and influencers – celebrating the fresh perspectives they bring in the course of creating genuinely world-changing products and services.
We begin their stories by finding out more about the pioneering path taken by Abbie Lawrence ….
Creating a world-changing simulated environment that understands consumer preferences
When Abbie received an email from the Young Innovators Awards and read the first word – ‘Congratulations’ – it changed her world (as it will undoubtedly change the world for countless SMEs). “I squealed, I shouted, and then I called my mum in tears.” The emotion was more than understandable. Abbie’s ideas and ambition had taken her to many different schools and countries, before graduating in San Francisco and finally finding a home for her ingenuity here in Wales.
Seeing that journey recognised as a winner in the Information & Communications Technology category of a prestigious awards was testimony to Abbie’s innate perseverance – and a profound belief in the importance of her innovation.
And what an incredible innovation it is. Abbie’s Consumer Insights Lab helps small and medium-sized firms increase sales by providing access to a simulation where they can identify customers’ buying habits in an immersive physical mock-up of their shopping experience.
It gives the SMEs of Wales (and the world) the hitherto unthinkable ability to understand the ‘Why’ and the ‘How’ of customer behaviour – gaining a critical market advantage through a level of insight that’s traditionally the preserve of large corporations capable of spending seven-figure sums on using the most sophisticated research channels to understand their customers’ purchasing decisions.
Developing, testing, commercialising, game-changing …
Abbie has developed, tested and validated this game-changing simulated environment during her PhD at Cardiff Metropolitan University – preparing a large, blacked-out room with a wrap-around screen and soundscape for commercial use. It’s a highly flexible facility where lighting, airflow and temperatures can be controlled, enabling props to be added and actors to participate for heightened reality. The system allows for multiple streams of data to be gathered, underpinned with real-time eye-tracking to understand buyer preferences. Quite an astonishing achievement – and a potentially major industry disrupter, heralding a new age where companies of all sizes can gain corporation-level insights using a simulated environment.
“My overriding passion has always been for sustainability and protecting the environment” explains Abbie “and with a degree in Graphic Communications, I wanted to effect change by learning how to communicate complex information to many different people. Then a PhD opportunity came up to help small businesses in Wales improve their sales through packaging. I saw it as the chance to help level up the playing field, rebalance the economy and give smaller companies the chance to compete.”
“A contact from an established global leader in consumer insights confirmed there was a huge space right across the SME economy – so we have concentrated on creating a very versatile facility that’s completely adaptable to any industry, giving actionable insights to improve any brand or packaging; and we’ve recently completed our second commercial project, which has been a tremendous experience.”
“As far as I know there’s no one else like us in the UK, so we’re exploring how to provide mobile facilities that would enable us to run several projects working with numerous target audiences at the same time.”
The critical lesson of learning to ask for help
With so much achieved in such a short space of time, Abbie is keen to thank the Young Innovators Programme and many others who have helped her on the journey to date: “Cardiff Met’s Centre of Entrepreneurship, Santander X University Awards, Nat West Accelerator and the brilliant team at Design Dough in Cardiff Bay have all been instrumental in helping me get the business to where it is today.
“Thanks to the Programme I’ve come to fully appreciate the importance of asking for help. That is something I previously struggled with. Learning to ask for advice, help and support has completely changed the trajectory of both myself and the business – and the financial support of the Programme has also been invaluable, allowing me to concentrate all my efforts on growing the enterprise.
“There’s still much to do and I’d like to build out the team so that this is self-sustaining, bringing in people of different skills who share the vision. There’s also a gap in data for online purchasing – how customers are interacting with the packaging when it’s delivered to their homes – and that’s another focus that I’d like to explore.”
“But right now, I want to take Consumer Insight Lab as far as it can go, helping smaller companies go as far as they can go.”
We’re looking forward to watching the progress of Abbie and her astonishing enterprise as it revolutionises the SME economy – and if you would like to know about the Young Innovators Awards and our other remarkable Welsh winners, go to www.venturewales.org