The young executives driven to be a success: 'My big asset is I'm great at solving problems'
Joanne Sweeney talks to two of the entrepreneurs and fledging business start-ups given a helping hand by Ulster Bank's new Entrepreneurial Spark hub
For some people, driving behind a lorry along a country road could be frustrating, but for young entrepreneur Jonathan Knight, it proved inspirational.
He noticed that the lorry had a reversing camera at its rear, but that it was so filthy with mud and dirt, it would be less than useful in helping the driver reverse safely.
Jonathan followed the lorry into a quarry yard and as he sat in his car and watched other lorry drivers drive in and out, the idea for his next product was hatched.
More than 18 months later, the 34-year-old Belfast man is currently testing and validating CLEARVUE, the world's first self-cleaning reversing camera, for introduction to market early this summer.
"I actually followed that lorry for about 12 miles as its camera was just so dirty and I sat there for about four hours just watching the lorry drivers at work," said Jonathan, the chief executive of Knight Systems Ltd.
"I went back to the office and looked up reversing cameras and found the statistics for accidents in the UK from haulage vehicles reversing quite startling.
"Around 22 people die each year, another 2,500 are injured and 50% of site accidents are due to vehicles reversing and 25% of those are down to having poor or no visibility."
He has also previously developed and patented Alpine Kit, an advanced cooling braking system for mountain bikes and Speedview, an electronic roll-off system for safety goggles worn by motocross and off-road sports drivers to ensure that they have a clear vision in muddy and wet conditions.
For the former semi-professional downhill mountain bike racer, his fascination with technology led him into creating his business.
His product development is not perhaps derived from natural ability, but his innate determination to solve problems.
"I'd no qualifications or background in engineering before I started my company. But I was literally the son who would take the VCR apart just to see how it worked and tried to put it back again. But it never worked again of course, and half of the bits were left outside," he said.
However, despite the childhood lack of success, Jonathan has turned his mind and efforts into developing the three new technology solution products since 2004.
Jonathan's first product, Alpine Kit - the advancing cooling brake system for sports bikes - was distributed globally in the USA, Brazil, and Europe. He also licensed his Speedview product to an American distributor, which is also sold globally and is planning to raise a round of £250,000 investment to make his latest product another Northern Ireland-developed global product.
At the age of 24, he saw the problem with cooling in the braking system of sports bikes and knew that he could improve it.
"I basically came home, walked in off the street to Queen's University to ask them who could help me develop it and once I did, I proved why it was better than other braking systems.
"My biggest asset is that I'm great at solving problems. When I come against a problem I just try and do everything that I can to find how to solve it.
"I think my background in sports gave me an awful lot of confidence, as in, 'you know what, just go for it'," said Jonathan.
"In racing, when you hold back or pull back, that's when mistakes happen. For me personally, if I kept pushing, I always got better and always got faster and won more races, so I have that attitude in business."
The new product from Knight Systems Ltd will literally help to save lives and prevent serious injuries in construction, quarry transport and transport industries.
Jonathan is currently testing it with major companies in Northern Ireland, such as Quinn Group, Lagan Construction and Terex and claims that it will reduce reversing accidents by up to 25%.
And while he produces some self-confessed "ugly" prototypes, he says that when his target audience comes to view what they can do, they immediately see how his problem-saving works.
He is one of the 60 entrepreneurs and fledging business start-ups who are based at the new Entrepreneurial Spark hub in Belfast's Lombard Street.
Just three weeks into his occupation at the hub, sponsored by Ulster Bank, he is ecstatic about the opportunity, services, advice and support that he and others 'chiclets' receive from the corporate ambassadors.
"The energy and creativity in that place is amazing and we all just bounce ideas off one another. To have 24-7 access to experts from the Ulster Bank has also proved vital to me," he said.
Jonathan added: "I believe CLEARVUE is a truly global product. In 2019 legislation is being introduced in America that makes it mandatory for all commercial vehicles to have reversing cameras.
"So there is huge market potential for it."