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Adelaide entrepreneur goes global with Speed Striker
Thursday 27 October 2011
An Adelaide entrepreneur has struck a deal with a major global distributor for his agility training invention, which he developed while suffering a long-term illness.
After developing a prototype, he has secured a licence deal with US business Sklz.
The company is now embarking upon a strategy of rolling out Speed Striker around the world, starting with Japan, South Africa and several European countries.
Under the licence, Ramsay-Matthews will get a minimum of $25,000 this year, rising in increments to $75,000 a year. He’ll then earn a 5% royalty share on sales on top of this.
The deal caps a remarkable entrepreneurial journey undertaken by Ramsay-Matthews, a 33-year-old graphic designer, who has come through the SA Young Entrepreneurship Scheme, which is administered by Business SA.
While laid low by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, he came up with the idea for Speed Striker in order to keep himself active.
The device is similar to the large balls that boxers hit during training. However, Speed Striker is tennis ball-sized and returns to the user at unpredictable angles after hit, helping improve coordination.
The invention has an elasticated chord and self-standing base, allowing it to be set up anywhere for training.
“It took a long time to do, as I had to fund it all myself,” says Ramsay-Matthews. “I couldn’t really afford a patent, but the IP lawyers allowed me to do some graphic design work for them in return for getting some initial protection for my idea.”
“I know from working for the patent attorney that it’s rare to get a product internationally protected, so the odds were against me.”
Ramsay-Matthews hired an industrial designer to make a prototype before partnering with an agent to introduce it to distributors. He also convinced Adelaide Crows AFL coach Mark Bickley to trial the product.
“The product has got great feedback in the US, although the next 12 months will be the most significant as it’s still early days,” says Ramsay-Matthews.
“It started as a passion and now it’s a business. It’s great to be earning a royalty cheque for this and for my product to be around the world.”
The above originally appeared here.
An earlier (2009) news article on the ABC's Catapult website profiled Gerard and his invention in its initial phase, before it became known as the Speed Striker:
Eye on the ball
Gerard Ramsey-Matthews is keeping his hand-eye co-ordination in top shape with his own invention.
Listen to this story:
The story so far...
At the end of his three year graphic design degree, Gerard Ramsey-Matthews became seriously unwell.
A keen fitness and martial arts fan, Gerard was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and sent to bed for at least a year.
Determined not to go crazy with boredom, Gerard took to playing around with a home-made ball attached to some elastic. Fun turned to into something more serious when Gerard realised his toy had the potential to be something more.
Two years later the result is Accuball, a portable training aid that helps develop the hand-eye co-ordination of athletes or martial artists.
"[Accuball] is a ball suspended from the ceiling to floor, and you can strike it and it moves randomly to increase hand-eye co-ordination skills," says Gerard. "It's about the same size as a tennis ball, but it's a dense sort of rubber compound, semi-spongy, so when you punch it, it bounces quite significantly."
Gerard says the portability of his product fills a market niche.
"I [had used] similar products like punching bags and floor to ceiling balls but these products weren't really accessible to everyday consumers, as they require major reinforcements [to be installed], so you mainly come across them in gyms," he says.
"Accuball uses a weight-disk to attach it to the floor and it can wrap around anything overhead. It could just be a beam or tree branch."
Pulling it together
With the germ of the idea in his hands, Gerard set about perfecting his invention, taking into account everything from the way the ball was designed, to how it could be commercially viable.
"[I had to make the ball] profitable and [give it] the ability to be instantly adjusted for height and tension. Everything about it was improved.
Plus with a background in graphic design, I got to brand it and took it on as pet project over a two year period."
Developing the prototype was the most difficult part of the process, says Gerard, as it involved plenty of patience and finicky attention to detail.
"It's very frustrating when something breaks in the prototype. You want to say it doesn't matter, but it does, and you have to keep getting it done and spending money, and that's scary when you don't have a lot of money."
Although versed in the creative arts of graphic design, Gerard was new to the business side of life. Advice and help came in the form of a South Australian government business assistance scheme, SAYES, which hosted regular two-hour seminars on different aspects of business training.
"I needed that to get the business element of my invention and pitch it to someone. You got to find out what the person you are going to sell it to wants," he says.
The intellectual property was handled locally and racked up most of the development costs.
"I started with an Australian provisional patent, [and] also did an international search through a trademark attorney to [find out] if there was any product of its kind on the market in the world. Once it was proved there wasn't I got an international provisional patent, which protects it for about 18 months before I choose which individual countries I want to file in.
"This gives me a monopoly on the different countries in which I want to try [to] acquire a licensing agreement for my product."
Handballing it on
Instead of manufacturing and promoting the Accuball himself, Gerard decided he would rather license the product to a big company and take a commission for every unit sold.
To do that he needed an agent, who he found through the SAYES program network.
"[The agent has] taken on my product in exchange for a success fee. With my help and knowledge in my product and his experience we'll put a pitch to companies that best fit," says Gerard.
"I'm looking at the American market because they are one of the biggest consumer markets in the world, especially related to my product. Market research shows that martial arts over there is very popular."
Licensing agreements can take various forms. A typical arrangement, says Gerard, is to receive fee for the license and then an amount per unit sold.
He says he can be protected from companies taking on his product and then burying it to stifle competition by including contractual performance quotas.
"If they don't reach a projected performance you might get a $20,000 or $50,000 payment because they haven't put their energies into it. This prevents companies from owning the rights to your product just in order to prevent you from cutting them out of the market segment."
With meetings scheduled with some big players, Gerard is now sitting and waiting.
Although the project has been a passion of his, he says he'll be happy to hand it over to another company - for the right deal.
"I'm good with this. It is my baby and I've spent a lot of time and energy on it, but from a business point of view it just depends on what's being offered. But the first company we contacted is already interested."
That article originally appeared here.
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