Lauren Bell, winner of The Rapid Challenge 2020, has been able to turn her graduate project into a promising brand with an innovative product. Stephen Holmes spoke to the founder of Cosi Care about her journey so far
The pastel-blue plastic starfish that inventor Lauren Bell is demonstrating to the RAPID Challenge judging panel has been in development for over three years. Its smoothly moulded back is made to be easily grasped by large and small fingers alike. Its face is a cold metal plate, with raised bumps providing texture.
Its purpose? To offer instant, cooling relief to children suffering from eczema. Having watched her younger brother battle the condition and her parents desperate to help him, Bell knew there was an urgent need for instant itch relief. Without it, scratching can lead to scarring that remains visible even into adulthood.
To understand how Bell got to this point, we have to go back to her final-year project for her product design degree from Brunel University.
The original idea was a piece of play equipment, a large turtle called Cosi. This was covered in cooling metal balls, designed to cool the skin of the agitated child who clambered on it, and thus ease their eczema symptoms.
At her graduate show, Bell was introduced to representatives from Central Research Laboratory (CRL), a product design accelerator. They loved the concept of Cosi, but felt the design was unrealistic for a massmanufactured product, especially one from a start-up. After all, the product comprised 300 different parts and five different materials, Bell explains.
“They advised me to scale it down, to start small and then work from there,” she says. This could provide a more viable path to launching a larger product further down the road, they told her.
Cosi Care – At a crossroads
As is the case for many university leavers, Bell hit a crossroads upon graduation. She needed to decide whether to get a job, start a business, begin a postgraduate course, or head off on a gap year to ‘find herself’.
But as she explains: “I wasn’t the lucky one with rich parents to send me off to Bali for a year, so I set out to focus on starting my own business. I never thought I’d have a product-based business, but when I learned more about manufacturing and how I could really scale this, refine it and turn it into a brand, I got really excited about it and decided to go for it.”
Her encounter with CRL team members saw Bell sign up to the organisation’s six-month start-up programme.
Her initial designs for Cosi were stripped back to the turtle’s starfish-shaped cheeks and two variants were developed: one designed for cooling in a domestic freezer; and another for electronic cooling.
Most importantly, the course taught her more about the business world. She learnt how to pitch her product and how to prepare it for manufacture. She even got to visit China, to see first-hand the manufacturing process.
At CRL, various investors, retailers and creatives are regularly invited to speak to course members, who then have the chance to pitch their products to these experts. In turn, the experts’ critiques help further shape their ideas.
“I’d say that it was at CRL that my entrepreneurial side came out more, and those sorts of skillsets started to be a lot more refined when it came to pitching and communicating my idea,” says Bell.
And the winner is…
With both her business idea and product refined, Bell set about applying for numerous awards targeting graduate and start-up businesses.
Her brand, Cosi Care, took some of the most prestigious prizes available: The Mayor of London Entrepreneur Award; the Santander Entrepreneur of the Year; and the NACUE Pitch Award sponsored by Tata.
Success has already netted Cosi Care around £90,000 in equity-free funding. And Bell’s most recent award submission saw her pitch to the RAPID Challenge judging panel at the end of 2020 – and emerge victorious.
Founded by Prodrive Ventures, RAPID Challenge partners include tax credit specialist TBAT Innovation; equity crowdfunding platform Crowdcube; patent attorneys IPasset Partnership; law firm Clayden Law; and, of course, DEVELOP3D magazine.
In addition to a cash prize, Bell also received services and advice valued at close to £50,000 from the award partners.
“It was incredible,” she says. “It came at the perfect time, because we were having some challenges with the electronic product, and to have someone like Prodrive now support the development of that is going to be so valuable.”
Any student considering starting a business should definitely be applying for awards and competitions, she says. “I think it actually made my business, and really allowed me to do the things that I would never have been able to afford to do just by myself.
“When you’re a new business, you just think about the product. And when you actually set up your business, you’re hit with three hundred other things to think about; so just to have support with those things, like IP and legal – it’s more valuable than the money.”
That said, the money is great, she adds, because it allows her to get stuff done, “but when it comes to contacts and guidance, that is the most valuable part.” Cosi Care’s first product launch is scheduled for Spring 2021, with another following closely behind.