Ollie and Matt of Collwright Engineering
Collwright Engineering was started by Ollie Wainwright and Matt Dawson, University of Nottingham students studying for their MSC in Mechanical Engineering. The company provides support for motorsport teams and suppliers, allowing them to outsource work to trained engineers who can work alongside design departments to assist with product development. Working through an online cloud platform, they provide clients with ‘virtual engineers’ capable of complete interaction without the cost of an in-house team. This flexibility means that the service is not only beneficial to motorsport companies, but also to many engineers in the industry who are forced to leave for other sectors due to the shortening of race seasons. Technical drawings, CAD modelling and access to manufacturers are some of the services that are available.
Creating an opportunity
Ollie was motivated to start a business after researching graduate schemes and feeling that the opportunities available to engineers were limited: he wanted a job that allowed him to travel and to have a more active role in the design process from client to product. So, unable to find a role he was interested in, he decided to create one for himself. Ollie worked for a high performance transmission company as a motorsport engineer from the age of 17, which included a year in industry with the company in the US. It was here that he noticed a large increase in the number of temporary contractors employed and saw a gap in the market for the introduction of a flexible engineering company that can help at peak times.
Acceptance from the industry
Though enrolled on a full-time course, Ollie felt inspired to start the business while still a student to “fill the space” left by his departure from his year in industry. He also recognised the benefits of starting a business without being entirely financially reliable on its success: “Initially starting the business I didn’t have to take out a salary because with student schemes still in place you have a safety net. That allows the business to grow a bit quicker than if you were going to draw a salary out”. Nevertheless, the entrepreneur still recognises the challenges of starting a business while still a student, naming trying to be taken seriously by older engineers as the biggest difficulty he faced. He jokes about meeting clients for the first time: “I think we gave clients a bit of the shock after talking to them on the phone! But we’ve definitely overcome that, we’ve proved that we are who we said we were, and that we can do what we said we were going to do”.
Engineers in business
Speaking of the potential within other engineering students to achieve business success, Ollie stressed the importance of engineers having some understanding of commercial viability: “There are a lot of engineers in the world that will design something without any thought put into the business concept… There’s definitely scope for engineers to have that business mind-set, I think it can only improve the quality of the engineering and of the outputs”. He references the Business School’s Entrepreneurship and Business module
as having “definitely initiated the promotion of the ingenuity mind-set, one that is very beneficial for engineers”. Available to 2nd and 3rd year engineering students, this elective module offers the chance to win a share of £3000 funding and mentoring to support a business idea developed as part of the module.
Advancing with advice and angel investment
Collwright made use of every support offered by the Ingenuity Lab, attending advice surgeries on sales, marketing and accounting and using the Lab as their business address. Ollie accredits the Lab’s meeting room as the “most beneficial” Lab facility, sharing that the business holds monthly meetings with clients Angelic Bulldog here, using the projectors to display their CAD system and designs. Ollie was also supplied with an engineering mentor through the Lab, which allowed him to tailor the business advice received from other sources to the motorsport market.
The entrepreneurs benefited from third party support and financial backing from success in the University’s Ingenuity Plus grant scheme and through the Inspired in Nottingham programme. Key funding also came from the Virgin Startup Scheme. Though recognising the importance of this support, Ollie maintains that the Lab’s contribution was essential to their success: “Without the Lab I don’t think we would have got as much money which meant that we probably wouldn’t have been able to start… I have already recommended the Lab to other students, telling them it was very successful for us”.
While still building a client base in the UK, Collwright has been establishing relationships in the US where there is a great deal of opportunity in the motorsport industry. Having recently returned from a visit to California to speak with teams and suppliers involved in the IndyCar and the SCCA World Challenge series, Ollie talks of plans to set up an American sister company while running Collwright from its Nottingham base. Looking to the future, Ollie talks of his ultimate goal for the business: “I hope to see it grow to be a fairly substantial entity in which we can support multiple series. What we’re aiming for is to achieve getting products and services in all series of motorsport around the world. It’s quite a big ambition”.
With an understanding that confidentiality, accuracy and speed are the winning formula for supplying to the motorsport industry, Collwright Engineering is set for success.
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Posted on Wednesday 27th May 2015