The Veuve Cliquot Business Woman of the Year Award ceremony was held last week and was, as ever, a highlight for me. The judging panel meetings have become increasingly interesting since we started doing The Young Businesswoman Award as a separate category (Under 35s). On the night, though, it is always wonderful to see the array of veteran female talent and previous winners. Now, more than ever, I like meeting the young women who are following in their footsteps.
Our feisty panel loves a fighter, so who better to get the award this year than Katherine Garrett-Cox, who fought tooth and nail to save her job and become the most recognisable women in the City, and one of the few female CEOs of a FTSE company. She’s endured more trials and tribulations than most CEOs, so the award was just recognition of her resilience. As someone who loves market disruptors, I was particularly pleased that we gave the New Generation Award to Emily Cooke, whose company Blaze has solved a problem faced by millions of people everyday.
The problem that Emily has solved is the SMIDSY. For those of you that don’t know, SMIDSY stands for, “Sorry mate, I didn’t see you”, a phrase commonly used by drivers on the streets of London after they’ve inadvertently nearly or actually driven into a cyclist. Although it sounds like a term the Weatherman might have coined (and I’m not entirely sure he didn’t…) the SMIDSY is a very real problem. 79% of accidents involving a cyclist happen when the cyclist is riding forwards, and somebody drives into them. Emily’s elegant solution to this problem is the Laserlight, a bicycle light that projects an image of a green cyclist on the road five metres ahead of whoever is using it, ensuring that they won’t become lost in a driver’s blind spot.
The idea for the Laserlight was born out of Emily’s own cycling experience, when, she says, she realised one day while out cycling, “a truck ahead just couldn’t see me, if he suddenly swung out now, I’d be squished.” The Laserlight was the product of Emily’s time spent studying Product Design at the University of Brighton, after doing a year of physics at Oxford. She launched Blaze in 2012, and has recently experienced huge success, with booming sales across the UK and the world, with particularly strong demand in the US and cycling-friendly cities such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam.
The company secured funding led by Pembroke Venture Capital, Richard Branson’s Family Fund, Index Ventures, and Jonny Goodwin from Lepe Partners. Emily has raised £1.5m for Blaze and the Laserlight is now stocked by Evans Cycles and MoMa in New York. The Laserlight works because it is so simple. It builds on an established concept – that of the age-old bicycle light – and brings it into the 21st century. The green image that it projects is universally understood and is particularly effective at night, when cyclists themselves often struggle to be seen.
Emily’s story is so inspiring not just because she’s a woman, but also because it’s a classic tale of an entrepreneur with a wonderfully simple yet effective idea who had the courage to take the risk and start a business. Her product appeals to millions of people, and could well end up saving many lives. Like all great entrepreneurs, Emily is never satisfied, and she already has plans to expand into more cycling-related areas, with a rear light reportedly in the works. I can’t wait to see what she does next!
What do you think is the best simple yet effective idea that an entrepreneur has ever had? Let me know at email@example.com, and have a wonderful weekend.