Entrepreneurial women and Outerspace

Outerspace interacts with a wide range of businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs. Some of our most successful clients are female innovators with inspirational stories.

Erica Fergusson and Janelle Sherrard (above) come from very different backgrounds, but both approached Outerspace to work with them to develop their ideas from concept to commercial product. The journey of product innovation was challenging for both of these women, but their stories tell how they overcame the obstacles and made their ideas a reality.

Erica began her start-up journey five years ago. As a stay-at-home mum with three active kids, she had a “love-hate” relationship with sunscreen. Applying sunscreen is a messy but necessary process. This led to Erica’s idea for SunSmudg – a sun smart way to carry and apply sunscreen without getting messy, greasy hands. Designed for people who love the outdoors it provides a better way of applying sunscreen effectively.

Janelle moved from the building and construction industry into product development around six years ago to pursue her ambition and passion for developing BinSpring, an idea she’d fallen in love with. BinSpring attaches to a wheelie bin lid to stop rubbish escaping. It’s an ingenious solution to a significant community problem.“It’s about environment, integrity, and practicality. That’s the way I live my life,” explains Janelle.

Even with her successful business background, Janelle had very limited understanding and experience with product development but was excited by the challenge. Both women started out with just an idea that they wanted to make into a reality and had an exciting journey ahead of them.

The first stages saw many challenges. Erica realised early on that she was going to need help with the implementation of her idea but found it difficult to know who to ask. Janelle also found it difficult to find a contractor and had limited information about the design industry. Her initial design wasn’t working and needed to be more robust. It was a stressful and costly exercise for both women just to find the right people and get the process started.

Erica and Janelle sought assistance with their projects and found Outerspace through the contacts they made at the Curtin University Ignition program. With positive feedback from the program they felt ready to get started and engage with Outerspace to take their products further.

Both women are Perth-based so their relationship with Outerspace was long-distance but everyone made it work. Both Erica and Janelle needed Outerspace’s expertise in product development, engineering, business development and product manufacturing. Over the two to three years they engaged Outerspace, they watched their ideas become designs, prototypes and commercialised products.

“We came from different sides of the country but it still worked really well and we were able to get the product developed from an idea to what SunSmudg is today,” explains Erica.

“I relied very much on a designer to guide how to get the product to a point where it was ready. Outerspace took the initial concept to a commercialised product,” says Janelle.

Outerspace not only assisted in the product design and engineering but also provided Janelle and Erica with insights and advice about pricing and manufacturing. “Outerspace were really honest and upfront with me and their feedback was invaluable. They had a really good work ethic and were very easy to work with. When you don’t know what you’re doing, you really have to trust people and Outerspace were very easy to trust,” Erica says.

Erica and Janelle were constantly surprised by the innovation process and experienced a new world of challenges they needed to overcome. Both mentioned how much they had underestimated the initial time and cost that goes into a start-up and how much you need to learn and adapt along the way.

“When you look at a product on the shelf you don’t realise that to get that product out to the masses is a huge process. It’s been very challenging and I’ve learnt a lot and made a lot of mistakes,” says Erica.

“People told me before I started that this was going to be the hardest thing I’d ever do and was going to cost a lot of money and take several years. I didn’t believe them, but that is the case. The cost of getting a product off the ground and into markets is enormous and we didn’t consider that enough at the start,” Janelle explains.

Another challenge both innovators have had to face was dealing with setbacks and rejections. “The greatest challenge is keeping that desire through all the knock-backs and keeping engaged, focused and prepared for the next steps. I’ve hit rock bottom so many times and had to pick myself back up again to keep going,” says Janelle.

“I’m very proud of SunSmudg but it became very challenging and took me out of my comfort zone. Conquering the rejections is the tough one when it’s something you’ve made yourself,” admits Erica.

Being a female entrepreneur is getting easier but these brave women still faced challenges. For SunSmudg being heard in the marketing world and contacting manufacturers was often overwhelming. For BinSpring, communicating with the waste management and local councils can still be challenging as they are very male dominated.

Both Erica and Janelle acknowledge how welcoming the innovation and product development world is now for female entrepreneurs, with gender equality understood as a given. While they faced some issues with local governments, waste and marketing industries, they saw no prejudice in the innovation or product development world.

Both women were grateful to have Outerspace working with them through the challenges of communicating with other industries and manufacturing suppliers overseas. For other female entrepreneurs just starting out, Erica and Janelle offer this advice on how to tackle the world of product development and innovation.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff. It has been the most challenging time in my life but you have to just keep going and focus on the end goal of getting your product out there,” says Erica.

“Entering the world of innovation is very frightening but if you reflect on your personal and company values frequently, it’s much easier to recognise when a business relationship is valuable and will give you longevity.  Get your business plan down pat. Establish your objectives and values. Women have that intuition to recognise when a business relationship is valuable,”Janelle says.

The future for both of these businesses is very exciting. After taking some time off from her project, Erica is looking at new marketing and sales opportunities to get SunSmudg out to the masses. BinSpring is undergoing product trials. Janelle recently won a WA Innovation Grant to fund the trials. She is collecting data on the benefits of the product for easier marketing and sales to local councils.

Outerspace is very proud to have been a part of the development of these two products and can’t wait to be a part of more projects with other amazing women like Erica and Janelle.

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Joanna Wilson
Joanna Wilson