While most people would want to avoid their hard work going down the drain, that’s precisely the objective of our award-winning entrepreneurs Al Bozorgi (Cultural and Creative Industries, 2017) and Elle McIntosh (Elle studied BSc Biomedical Science at the University of Bedfordshire (2015), before studying Business Administration in 2016 at City, University of London).
Creators of Twipes and this year’s winners of the Mayor’s Entrepreneurial Competition, Al and Elle talk us through their journey from blocked toilets to winning that £20,000 prize.
How did you meet?
Al: City and Islington Sixth Form College. We’ve known each other for 7 years.
Where did the idea come from?
Elle: It was when a third person, a mutual friend of ours, sat us down and said he was looking for a product. He used both toilet paper and wet wipes in the bathroom and told us he had blocked his toilet three times this year!
Al: It was February – how had he blocked it three times that year?!
Elle: Exactly. He said ‘I just want wipes on a roll, I just want something convenient, I just want something easy for me to use’. So we looked into the viability of it. Al looked at the business side of viability. Whether it would be affordable for us to actually make this. I looked at the chemical components of regular wet wipes and what they’re made of and whether there was a quicker way to make them disperse.
Tell me about some of the research:
Elle: I did lots of research. Lots and lots of research. Currently, the wipes on the market are either cotton or bamboo. And a lot of toilet paper itself is made from recycled paper. So I looked into the process of essentially getting toilet paper which is moist and a little bit thicker and also made in the same way that wipes are manufactured. Regular toilet paper is made in a layering process. Wet wipes are made from cotton and fat, with an emulsifier on top, which has all of the chemicals, so it’s a two-layer process. I wanted to see if you could do the same thing to our Twipes product.
Al: I did market research and found out some crazy statistics. The wet wipes market is worth nine billion pounds globally and in the UK 14 percent of consumer sales are for use in the bathroom. I also found out that Thames Water unblocks a sewer or drain because wet wipes have been flushed, every six and a half minutes which is insane.
Elle: 80 percent of all blockages originate from wet wipes.
What’s different about Twipes?
Al: 99% of wet wipes are actually made of cotton which causes a blockage because cotton doesn’t break down in water. Our wet wipes are made from wood pulp which you’re not cutting down trees for. It’s a by-product of paper manufacturing. So we use that because paper does break down in water.
Elle: Twipes also come on a roll like toilet paper.
Al: And they’re antibacterial.
What feedback have you had?
Al: We gave Twipes out to family and friends, we gave it out at events, at CitySpark last year and people said their bums were too wet, so we had to adapt them – now they’re way less wet. During our market research people also gave us different ideas for the use of Twipes.
Elle: That gave us the validation. We could speak to a room of five people and they’d give you five different uses for the product.
When can we expect Twipes to be on the market?
Elle: If we sold them in a little case just like baby wipes, we could do them tomorrow but we want them on a roll because they’re going to be sold in the wipes section. There are no wipes on a roll on the market so it will stand out on a shelf. So we want to make sure those cases are finalised and perfect before we go and sell.
Al: We’re currently in the process of getting an injection moulding done so we’ll have a final version of a case that screws open.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
Al: I’ve never worked on a products business. We never had any sort of experience when it came to this. We didn’t even know where to begin. So the biggest challenge was in the first few months were we just went round in loops and circles trying to figure everything out. But once we actually got a plan, it became clear to us.
What’s been the most rewarding?
Elle: I just want to talk about the Mayor’s entrepreneurial awards. If it wasn’t for the Enterprise Team at City, we wouldn’t have known about the Mayor’s Entrepreneurial Award. It was Marius that pushed us to apply. We knew the previous winners and we only found out we knew the previous winners because of Marius. We didn’t expect to win, we only came for the publicity because we thought it would be a great opportunity and we won!
Elle: For anyone that wants to set up their own business, I’d personally say research. And be prepared to work hard. Always prioritise your business. It will be so difficult when you have to manage your life, manage friends, family, relationships, business and everything. It’s going to pull you in so many different directions. You have to be focused. And don’t compromise your weekends because you’ll drive yourself into the ground. Know when it’s time to take a break. Be prepared. There are going to be 16 hour days ahead of you and you have to think ‘do I really want to do this?’
Al: Talk to everyone about your idea. A lot of people say they have a really amazing idea but they won’t tell you because they think you are going to copy it. People don’t have the time and effort to copy you. Tell everyone about your idea. If we hadn’t told everyone about our idea, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
Elle: Tell people your idea but just limit the information you give them.
Al: Because you also won’t find out if you have a good idea unless you tell people about it.
Al: We’ve got space here until June, so we’re going to use up every last second of that.
Elle: One of the things that we want to do is partner with another start-up making biodegradable tampons. We want to start making water-dispersible feminine hygiene products and the pocket version of Twipes obviously.
To find out more about Twipes please visit:
If you need support or office space to launch your own business, please visit: www.city.ac.uk/cityventures/launch/city-launch-lab