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Crafted Equestrian: taking a winning product design out of the classroom and into the real world

  • When Jenny Gregg discovered that her new pony had girth galls she knew she needed to find a solution. The painful injuries are caused by friction and sweating around the girth strap that runs under a horse and holds the saddle in place. Until the condition heals, a horse needs treatment and cannot ‘work’.

    “As soon as I rode her, she would get blisters, nips and cuts. I couldn’t keep her skin free from injury. And that’s how Crafted Equestrian started. I just made a product for me, sticking nursing foam onto an existing girth to create a pressure relief system that I kept clean using a sheepskin [the traditional remedy for girth gall]. I rode using it for the rest of the season and she was fine, and never had any problems.”

    Studying Product Design at Ulster University (UU), one module required Jenny to design a product to start a theoretical business. She used her innovative girth as the product. A course tutor submitted their classes’ Kickstarter-like promotional product videos into a pool of entries for the Santander University Entrepreneurship Awards. Jenny’s film was chosen to represent the university and she was short-listed to pitch in the semi-finals, which she won, and went on to the London final.

    “I’d never pitched before in my life, but people started to believe me that this would work. It turned from a personal fix to a commercial opportunity when I realised that I needed to protect the concept and went to the university.”

    Following this success, the UUSU Enterprise Centre put Jenny forward to pitch to Innovation Ulster Ltd (UU’s wholly owned knowledge and technology venturing company) at the beginning of 2018 and they invested, allowing her to file for a patent, and supported her work with the Journey For agency to rebrand her company and film a professional explainer video. “Now I was protected I could go and tell everyone about it and make a proper go of it.”

    IP specialists at the university helped her negotiate the complex world of patent applications, while the UUSU Enterprise Centre has provided support and encouragement with practice pitching sessions, presentation design advice, and numerous opportunities with other entrepreneurial organisations and competitions.

    Jenny’s placement year at Old Mill Saddlery in Larne taught her how to sew leather, and she put together some prototypes when she wasn’t working. The placement also gave her valuable insight into the equestrian product market, pricing, and what motivates customer purchases.

    It’s been a busy summer working on pitching, sales projections, and networking with local manufacturers through the Ulster Bank Accelerator Programme. Jenny sent off a prototype to be tested on a horse with a bad girth gall-related injury and a fungal infection.

    “They couldn’t ride the pony at all, but once the horse healed they tested my girth and the results were better than I could have hoped for. They used the product, were able to adjust it themselves, and on the first weekend, the pony won a Scottish national competition!”

    Alongside this product validation Jenny was offered the opportunity to be part of a UU team that pitched at the prestigious Maguire Hegarty LLC International University Student Pitch-Off Competition in Philadelphia, where she won again.

    Next up, it’s the final of Catalyst Inc’s Invent competition in October.

    While students tend to design products without the full constraints of cost and manufacture, Jenny says that her experience trying to commercialise her new girth means she “could never design that same way again".

    "I’m constantly thinking how things can be manufactured, how they would be sewn. It’s opened up a whole new world of viability for my brain to think about.”

    “It’s been a steep learning curve,” admits Jenny. “I thought that once I had a product that I could use myself and had got my patent then I would be more-or-less product-ready, but now I’m learning how much more product design work is needed to make the girth ready for manufacture as well as continuing to learn more about the world of business.

    “It’s difficult to try and be everything. I’m trying to be a marketing expert, an accountant, a product designer, and a customer. Everything’s more difficult and time-consuming than I imagined.”

    Jenny is confident of success, though. “I never thought I would be able to start a business at this age. I couldn’t have seen me here this time last year -- not in a million years! Everything just seems to have taken off.”

    As she begins her final year at UU while developing a business and a product she hopes to launch in the new year, Jenny knows she has a lot on her plate. “I’m not sure how I’m going to do everything, but I’ve managed so far.”

    “I know it's going to be a busy year, but I can't wait to get started!”

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