Sam Mant spoke to Business Advice about how her interest in sustainability led to a new business endeavour which aims to transform the UK’s hard water problem.
A passion for the environment and sustainability had marked Sam Mant’s career path from an early stage – she had studied for a degree in geography and a background across the charity sector was revolved around sustainability. So when she found the chance to combine these interests with her career as a small business owner she jumped at the opportunity.
She was already running another company Three Sixty Services, a plumbing firm, when she came across Halcyan water conditioner overseas and thought it would be a great product to bring to the UK. She pointed out that “60 per cent of the UK population suffers with hard water that harms our homes, ourselves and our businesses”. It contributes to “billions in wasted energy, equipment and time”, and now Mant has the rights to Halcyan, she’s hoping to help solve that problem – initially at home, and then globally.
“It doesn’t use any chemicals, it requires no maintenance, it’s a permanent fitting and quite simply does the job, so it’s both cost-effective and sustainable,” Mant explained.
It’s all in the early stages at the moment, with just Mant and a part-time assistant running the daily business, but she hopes to capitalise on the opportunity, which could see between two and four million in turnover in the next five years.
As she was already running a business, Mant admitted balancing both was a real challenge. So, when she saw the accelerator programme ESpark advertised, the opportunity to receive support and guidance was not as pressing as the opportunity to have a separate working space.
“The home away from my other office has been crucial. I felt I was constantly being sucked into working on the parent business, so having a dedicated space away from it was very important for me,” she added.
The other pluses however, were also a draw. “There’s nothing like working with a network of enthusiastic and like-minded people. It sounds clichéd, but it’s clichéd for a reason.”
A particular benefit for Mant was that she could “take things to mentors there, and you’ve got criticism and other brains on tap – and you don’t have to pay a professional”.
“It speeds up decision-making no end. Small things can become really big when you’re alone.”
She had done some training before, but fundamentally “feeling part of something” means you’re obligated not to let others down too. “There’s a renewed energy on my part, because I don’t want to let those down who have invested in me.”
The contacts too, were invaluable. “I now have a senior lady at KPMG working on figures for me which I never would’ve had before. It’s where you get stuck so many times as a small business – being able to afford these sorts of things,” she agreed. Spending money on getting professional advice is too big a luxury for most small firms, so the opportunity to receive it for free through an accelerator programme is a real advantage.
Mant also feels there’s a huge amount of “really good free advice out there”. “Do you due diligence and look around online,” she advised. If you consider which company or person you’d most like to receive advice from on a certain topic, then check if they do provide anything online about it. Mant said while many small businesses “assume we’re inconsequential and these big places won’t be interested in providing us with advice, but many times that just not the case”.
The early trouble Mant ran into for Halcyan came down to those who had come before her within the industry. “We have been plagued by products which don’t work so there’s a mountain of distrust among consumers, we have to work hard to overcome trust and win over a segment of our customers.”
To try and address this, she has gathered testimonials from over the years to present to customers and point out that the product isn’t just a flash in the pan and will work. Mant is also looking to redo lab tests in the UK so they can be peer reviewed which should allay many people’s fears.
Once customers have been won over she wants to “take it global, the Middle East, the rest of Europe – I want it to become the solution of choice for all of these places”, though she’s also adamant the HQ remain in Bristol.
Mant has seen the potential of her product and is excited about realising it – a productive and insightful session with UKTI means she’s now “itching to export” though she acknowledged the need to “walk before I run”.
Coming from a small business background – both her parents have run small several financial services firms between them – she was aware of the sacrifices that were necessary to make. For others considering starting a firm, she feels how considerably you commit yourself to making a go of it depends very much on your risk profile.
“You’ve got to be realistic about how much you can risk and what you can handle. I know some people who have been working while starting up a business in their spare time, which is really tough but sometimes it’s the right decision for people,” she explained.
It’s clear Mant herself, though, has very much been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. “I embrace advice and challenges now. If no one dies, just get on with it!”
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