A Common Problem; No Good Solution
Faveo® - which is Latin for ‘I support’ - was started in March 2004, to bring a new invention to market to solve a problem faced by a staggering 50% of women which had no previous solution. The Faveo® Freedom Bra was the first bra without any straps that could hold up breasts as heavy as a pair of melons when all previous products were unable to lift anything heavier than a pair of Satsuma oranges. This innovation has had an interesting journey from Eureka! to market, not least because of its very female appeal and the problems this caused in communicating commercial opportunities to male-dominated financial institutions.
Few are aware that bras are technically complex contraptions which rely on high-tech design and fabric combinations to work. Curvy women with larger sized breasts have a greater challenge to face because larger-heavier breasts are more difficult to lift and support. With 50% of women in this category in the western world at the very least, the range of bras that lift and support these women is much more limited than the easier to uphold smaller 50%.
Patents and other registered intellectual property have always been associated with bras, demonstrating their innovative and technical nature. Mary Phelps invented the first bra and filed her patent 100 years ago in 1913. It was based on the cantilever system that all bra designs since have relied upon. Incredibly, adhesive glue replaced the shoulder and back straps in strap-free bras to enable women to wear dresses with unusual necklines, thin straps and low backs. On close inspection of any movie premier red carpet event, the majority of dresses are of this nature because these features add to their appeal. Showing a bra strap underneath would completely ruin the effect the designers intended.
The Faveo® Freedom Bra is the first bra that does not use cantilever principals at all. It uses a revolutionary breast support system that relies on a totally new way to support breasts. It works by molding breasts into shape rather than lifting them up. Dr Joanne Morgan discovered that whilst a breast is being molded, the breast moves upwards and the sideways or up-down movements of the breasts are dampened. The effect is that the breast is higher up (so is in effect uplifted without being lifted up) and is supported (not by being anchored to the body but by being encircled and wrapped by individual breast covers). The result is so impressive so that whilst adhesive bras are able to support a maximum of a D cup, the Faveo® Freedom Bra works well for H cup sizes and even bigger. (Yes, that size does exist and it is common!).
How it all Began
The inventor, Dr Morgan, was frustrated by her inability to find a bra that could be worn comfortably by women like her with more ample bosoms and which was flexible enough to be worn with more challenging clothing designs, such as backless and strapless dresses. She was young (28), slim and saw that there were millions of women like her that wanted to wear beautiful dresses but struggled when trying to buy a bra. While working full-time as a scientist, with a PhD in cancer research, she designed a bra that “ignores the laws of gravity”, and could give freedom to the 50% of women that had a limited, dull wardrobe.
Her Scientific Background and IP Experience Helped
If you come up with a new idea, you have to do a lot of research to make sure it hasn’t been described elsewhere. I didn’t publicly disclose my idea before I had filed my application. Doing so can prevent you from getting a patent. I use confidentiality agreements routinely.
Dr Joanne Morgan
Using the knowledge gained as an Intellectual Property manager for the NHS and Universities of Nottingham and Sheffield in the UK, she did the relevant searches in patent literature to be sure that there was no other invention of this kind and filed a patent application. Mindful of the importance of getting a quality patent, she hired a patent agent who helped her through the process of filing her application.
People sometimes say that patents can be ‘got around’. In many cases this is because the patent claim are poorly drafted.
Dr Joanne Morgan
She started Faveo Limited as a commercial vehicle into which equity and grant funding could be used to develop the idea into prototypes, pay for protecting the intellectual property (patent, trademark and registered design), to prove the concept and to do further research in order to determine how far reaching the idea would be. Merely patenting an invention is not sufficient, prototypes would need to be developed and tested in order to hone the scope of the patent and take a product to market. This research and development phase is extra to most other types of businesses - the Proof of Concept stage – and means that a business needs money quite a long time before a profit is likely.
To get an invention to market, you need an inventor and an entrepreneur with a business background. I was fortunate in having both skills but only rarely is this the case. My advice to any inventor would be; to share your business very early on with someone that really can turn your idea into a reality. Otherwise, you will be left with massive patent bills and no profit 3 years down the line.
Dr Joanne Morgan
Inventions need money and Dr Morgan realized that to complete the proof of concept phase in her experience could costs £100,000 to £500,000 depending upon the type of invention (excluding a salary for the inventor) and take 1 to 3 years depending upon resources. Also, she realized that if you had a corporate vehicle, you could pay people by giving away equity rather than precious cash, which can buy you excellent help and advice rather than budget solutions. She enlisted her life long friends Susan Powell, a lingerie retailer with 20 years in the business and Megan Powell-Vreeswijk, a revered lingerie designer, to work on product development whilst bringing on board her work colleague Dr Martin Whitaker, an entrepreneur and intellectual property Director in his own right.
She knew that the success of a product depends also on its form or its eye appeal or good looks as well as an attractive brand name that require use of other forms of intellectual property tools for their effective protection in the domestic and export markets. Accordingly, she has also filed industrial design and trademark registrations for protecting the design of the bra. The trademark protection for Faveo® has been sought abroad through the international filing mechanism administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization, namely, the Madrid system.
A summary of the intellectual property rights involved can be seen here.
The Faveo® Patent 1 has been filed in the UK
The patent has been filed in the following territories via the PCT
The patent has been granted in the following territories:
A European Divisional (a second) patent is being prosecuted in Europe only.
2. Industrial designs
Granted 2 x European Community Design Registrations (No: 552955-0001 & 552955-0002)
Granted UK registered trademark for “Faveo”
Faveo® owns the copyright to the patterns and technical drawings developed for the bra; these are original designs that have been independently created and are unlike many bra patterns created before.
Dr Morgan won several awards for her innovation based business model. She was a regional finalist in the Shell Livewire Young Entrepreneur of the Year competition in 2005, winner of Handbag.com Barclays Bank Most Innovative Business of 2005 and regional winner of the British Chamber of Commerce most innovative business of 2007.
In addition, Faveo® has received funding from a variety of organizations, primarily due to the fact that the company had a good idea with intellectual property rights. Early in the business, Faveo® was given an Innovation Futures grant for £3,000 from Mansfield District Council administered by Angle Technologies and received support from the East Midlands Textile Association (EMTEX) in the forms of a grant worth £1,000 and a team that developed the website. More recently, Faveo® was awarded a grant for research and development (GRD) worth £63,000 from Advantage West Midlands.
Oiling the Business Machine; Utilizing External Funding Sources
Joanne was ready to put all her savings from her full-time job on the line for her brilliant invention, but the needs of the business exceeded this commitment. During the product development stage, friends and family invested for an equity stake in the business. Following the proof of concept stage, Faveo Limited was supported by venture capitalists Advantage Early Growth Fund (AEGF), part of the Advantage West Midlands extensive Access to Finance network. Faveo® was one of the most innovative first-round venture capital deals made by the AEGF in 2006. It also captured the interest and imagination of around 30 private investors who invested alongside the fund. However this simplifies an arduous 9 month fund raising round, despite the combined experience of Joanne and Dr Whitaker.
Firstly, in order to be investable in, Faveo® needed to move from Nottingham in the East Midlands to Tamworth in the West Midlands. This was due to rules on investment AEGF were tied into, and the fact that at that time the East Midlands did not have a similar fund ready to invest or a network of private investors that rivaled that of their Western counterparts. Due to match funding rule, getting private funding was a prerequisite for the fund to invest. However there was a major downside to moving. Faveo® had to forego a grant award of £200,000 from the East Midlands Regional Development Agency because they were moving out of the area. Unfortunately, to access this grant the company needed to have raised £600,000 worth of investment, and the only way to do that was to move. A bureaucratic “catch 22” situation considering that ultimately the funding was coming from the same pot of the UK central government.
I had vast experience of the East Midlands regional investment organizations as well as grant funding for the area. The irony is that to get grant funding, the company needs to have the money it is going to receive in a grant form anyway, so you need money in the first place, an almost impossible situation for start-up companies. Unfortunately, the East Midlands at that time was far behind the West in supporting private and equity investment structures to fund innovative, early stage businesses.
Gender and Understanding
Joanne has highlighted that one of the biggest problems when raising private finance was the fact that her product appealed to women but she was pitching to men for funds. She publicly commented that there is a serious problem with financial institutions and even governmental organizations when it comes to female inventors and entrepreneurs. It is easy to sympathize with the fact that when someone is investing money (either their own or on behalf of a third party/employer) for a risky, early stage business, the final decision will be driven somewhat by gut instinct. When someone is pitching a problem or a solution that does not directly affect that person, it is very hard to get the same level of enthusiasm behind the idea. Worse still, when a serious global industry such as lingerie, is marketed with frivolous sexual images, those without industry knowledge attach those tags to the business side too.
I have raised private investment for very early stage businesses before, so I can categorically say that raising money for an early business with a female led product is a rare thing to achieve. I have a list of horror stories for the lack of understanding my pitch received because of the market sector. None of the men would make a decision on investment until their wives had tried it on and gave an opinion, despite me giving them access to independent industry experts for them to contact that had reviewed the product.
Faveo® looked to the banks for a government banked loan scheme called the Small Firms Loan Guarantee (SFLG) scheme. Dr Morgan had successfully gone this route nearly 30 times before, so she knew what types of businesses were accepted for money in the past. Unfortunately, despite the fact that 4 banks had agreed the loan at a local level when the local branch manager was a woman (all of which insisted on trying on the Faveo® Freedom Bra before agreeing to the loan), all four turned the loan down when the male underwriter in London looked over the proposal. Dr. Morgan, as a woman, found it hard to believe that personal affinity with the product was hugely influential in an early stage business where product sales had not yet been fully proven, despite the reasons brokered by the bank.
A Promising Future
Faveo® has an extensive portfolio of innovative products based on filed intellectual property that would have significant advantages over current products. Faveo® hopes to announce that it has licensed this technology to a large brand manufacturer during 2008/2009, but the real question is why they did not do this sooner? According to Dr Morgan the answer is disappointing but simple: big businesses only take on fully developed innovations as they are generally quite cautious about new things. Dr Morgan did try to license the intellectual property at a much earlier stage of the business but 3 large corporations turned her down because the idea was too embryonic. Since the launch of the Faveo® Freedom Bra, Faveo® has been contacted on almost a weekly basis by companies that have realized that the first product was just the beginning and that the true potential of the invention was a lot more valuable.
In five years time I would like Faveo® to be a successful brand, known in many different countries across the globe. This is a big ambition, however, I believe that if I do not aim for the most perfect outcome, I am unlikely to reach anywhere near this goal. I’m not worried about falling short of this task because I will have probably traveled a huge way towards this goal and so will not have failed.
Dr Joanne Morgan
Firm: Faveo Limited.
Location: Midlands, United Kingdom
Business sector: Lingerie
Activities: Design, development and commercialization of a revolutionary new types of bra
Number of employees: 7
Powerpoint Presentation: http://www.wipo.int/edocs/mdocs/sme/en/wipo_icc_smes_08/wipo_icc_smes_08_topic01.ppt