A lifetime of salmon fishing and many years’ experience as a police diving recovery team instructor has made Bill Smith a self-taught expert in the way floodwater behaves, particularly in unpredictable rainfall events.
Two decades ago he came up with the idea of a novel, portable flood prevention device – the Floodbag – but no-one took him seriously, until he came across Enterprise Europe Network in the North East of England.
Now, after support through EEN’s Innovate 2 Succeed programme and their help with finding finance to complete a prototype, Bill’s invention is undergoing trials with Northumbrian Water and has attracted interest from several international companies.
Easily and speedily deployed
Bill, who runs a construction and property development business in Co Durham, said: “Despite talking to different agencies over 20 years, I hadn’t got anywhere until I came across EEN. I found them very supportive.”
The Floodbag is a simple concept – lightweight, free-standing, capable of being anchored to the ground if required, easily stored and transported, and just as easily and speedily deployed.
It is also re-useable, recyclable, easily cleaned and disinfected after use and uses the cause of the problem – floodwater – as the solution.
Innovate 2 Succeed
Bill sees an important strategic role for Floodbags in the headwaters of ‘at risk’ river systems: “If sited near areas of suitable topography, we could temporarily flood areas away from populations and infrastructure.”
It would also be useful in diverting water away from property threatened by water main bursts. EEN adviser Sharon Boyd picked up his website inquiry and saw that Floodbag's potential was ripe for support under Innovate 2 Succeed. A proof-of-market exercise led to more market research into competitors’ flood defence solutions and likely price-pointing of the Floodbag.
EEN brokering help
The next step was an Access to Finance package. Bill had been quoted £25,000 to build a prototype but, with EEN’s help in brokering alternative suppliers, that came down to £10,000.
After receiving coaching on how to present his innovation, Bill secured £4,000 from the European Regional Development Fund’s Designing Better Business programme towards that cost.
The funding was a big plus,” he said. “It’s difficult for people in my situation to come up with the finance – and that ‘s been a great help. And the contacts have been fantastic. I’ve been able to go to Northumbrian Water and big construction companies and take things forward.
Now, after 20 years, I’ve finally got the prototype ready and waiting. People are taking it seriously and believing in it. That gives me great comfort. And the Floodbag has worldwide application, as the EEN team have pointed out.