Inventor Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh from Kilkenny is the creator of a product that has been described as ‘the best invention since Sellotape’.
Sugru is a material which resembles modelling clay but sticks to almost anything and dries to a tough, rubbery finish helping people to fix objects that people would otherwise dispose of. It is named after the Irish word for play.
IT STARTED OUT as an idea of trying to make an easier and fun way for people to repair and modify things. I think we can all be problem-solvers. Through Sugru I had a glimpse of a whole world of doers. If something breaks or something needs fixing, people can actually go and do something about it. It’s good to have a DIY mindset.
From the very start I was experimenting with materials for Sugru and I was using it around the house solving little problems. It clicked with me then – I started to see it as a sort of functional Blu-Tack. I never saw it as a niche product but something that could be used by everyone for all sorts of reasons, like a household every day thing that you buy in the corner shop – that is what I imagined from the start.
People often say the simple ideas are the best but you only arise at a simple idea through complexity. I couldn’t have sat down and thought of the Sugru idea – as simple as it sounds – no one came up with it before me. It was a complicated creative process. We wandered around trying loads of things until one day something crystallised. I would say simple ideas are great – but you can’t always start with simplicity.
Determination is key if you want to invent something. I was determined to see my idea through as I knew that it could be really useful to people.
I had to got through quite a big barrier with the science end of it. I was lucky that I knew someone who could put me in contact with the right people like the scientists that helped me develop the product – but that is what I learned. You can’t know everything, you have to pull knowledge in from other people.
It was probably a good two years before we had working samples. But as soon as we had trial users then that really motivated me as I could see people using it and I could get people’s feedback.
It is not just a product for me – I was doing it because I really care about people fixing stuff and I really wanted to make that change in the world. I really wanted to make a cultural change so that people will actually look after their stuff more and if something breaks, they can fix it. Because people really do have the capability to fix things.
People are amazingly inventful, creative and resourceful – I think they have just forgotten that they are.
My advice to someone who has an idea or wants to invent a new product is – if they are passionate about it, go for it. If not, they should try and find out what they are passionate about, because that is the only thing that will get you through setting up a new business – you need passion.
I had no idea when I first started out how long it would take and how much it would cost. It took over six years to see my idea realised into a working product. If you take a leap into something because you really believe in it, you need to check back with yourself in a week’s time, in a month’s time and ask – am I still passionate about it? Is this still what I want to do? And at each stage, it was for me. There is nothing worse than being stubborn and not stopping just because you started it.
The best thing about inventing something is to see people using it and finding it helpful in their lives. Like seeing one of the Paralympic archers this year using it on his bow – we love that. Every day we get emails from people telling us how they use the product and that is what keeps us all going. I get surprises all the time when people are using Sugru for things that I didn’t even think about.
If someone wants to be an inventor and thinks they have the idea and above all the passion to see it through – then they should go for it.