Jeff Woolf OBE, inventor and CEO Morpher Helmet, tells SME all about his growing business
What exactly is Morpher Helmet all about?
It’s the world’s first flat folding helmet. Morpher was invented to make the safety benefits of wearing a bike helmet easy and convenient for everyone. Morpher folds and unfolds in seconds, solving the problem of people not wanting to wear a helmet because they find them too cumbersome to carry when not cycling. Morpher folds flat and fits into a laptop bag, backpack or handbag.
Why did you decide to set up Folding Helmet Technology?
I invented Morpher Helmet after a helmet saved my life in a hit and run accident. After the accident, when I was very grateful that I’d been wearing a helmet, I kept noticing that the majority of cyclists weren’t wearing one. As an inventor I’m always curious about why people do things and am always looking for solutions to make life easier for people.
After doing some research I discovered that most cyclists (84%) don’t wear a helmet, not because they don’t think they need one, but because they don’t like carrying them around when they’re not in use. I set about creating a helmet that could fold flat so that they could keep it in their bag and always have one with them, so they’d be safer when cycling.
You’re been inventing things for some time now. Tell us about your approach.
I’ve always been an inventor and have been working in innovations for my entire life. I was very proud to be the recipient of an OBE for services to Innovation and Business. I got it the the same year that I won British Inventor of the Year for MicroMap, a miniaturised mapping system I produced and manufactured in the UK. It was such a huge honour to be recognised for my work. I never stop inventing and innovating and am currently working on the Mk II version of Morpher which will have the addition of some hi-tech features that are currently under wraps. We’re getting close to a prototype, and I have to say the Mk II has got some groundbreaking features not available on any bike helmet, and of course … it folds flat too. We feel that it’s revolutionary.
I’m proud of the clutch of impressive awards we’ve won for Morpher, including being a Time Magazine’s invention of the year. Being an innovator and inventor can be a lonely business, but I’ve got a lot of grit and determination and the combination of having an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset with a good measure of tenacity has paid off. It has been a long hard slog, the recognition for all the years of working along and sticking at it has been very gratifying. My commitment to getting Morpher produced, at times against all the odds, when many people might have given up, is now paying off. All that I ever wanted to do was help to reduce injuries and it now appears that Morpher has saved at least one life. That is more that I could ever have asked for. it’s also worth noting that sales are going well, Morpher is now available and selling all over the world and the reaction from cyclists and the press has been incredible.
When did you begin trading and what were the challenges in the early days?
It was hard at first because I had to do everything myself. Until we raised over £1m on Seedrs last year I’d spent five years pouring all my money, energy and time into Morpher and I was doing it all alone. I started trading by launching a campaign on Indiegogo, with the hope of raising $35,000. I wanted to see if there was an appetite for a folding helmet, the response was incredible, we overfunded almost immediately. When the campaign finally closed we’d raised over $400,000 and that’s when I knew I had a very viable product. There were lots of setbacks along the way, I ended up spending months living in the middle of nowhere in China so I could oversee the development of the moulding and production, then the factory burned to ground and I was still doing it all on my own. We officially began shipping helmets in late 2016.
You’ve since gone on to win some pretty impressive awards. What are they and how did it feel to win?
I’ve been so humbled and proud to win each award, especially the OBE, which I never in a million years thought I’d be worthy of. To win British Inventor of the Year once was incredible and then to win again was extraordinary. Morpher has won seven major awards for innovation and safety which has also been phenomenal. To have the endorsement from such prestigious, high profile organisations has been so important and confirmed that I was on the right path. Morpher has also won th iF D+I Award ’16, the Edison Gold Award,one of Time Magazine’s inventions of the year, Popular Science’s Safety Invention of the year, the Innova Special Product Award for the Best New Transport Innovation, Platinum at The British Invention Show and Gold at Brussels Eureka.
What do you think sets you apart from the competition?
I can say for sure that our helmet definitely folds the flattest of any of our competitors, none of the other so-called folding helmets can easily slip into a bag like ours can. Morpher is available in a great (and ever expanding) range of colours and none of the competition has won as many awards as Morpher has. One look at the hundred plus independent and verified 5-star reviews on our website should confirm how well we are received by people the world over.
Where do you hope the business will be in five years’ time?
In five years’ time we will have many other innovative folding helmets on the market, not only for cyclists but for snow sports, security, equestrian, and even motorbikes and construction workers. The potential for exciting tech applications for each sector is enormous. For cycling alone the market is enormous, over 10 million people worldwide use bike share schemes and more bikes than cars are now being sold in Europe and the US. The bike market is exploding and the potential for us is enormous.
If you had to sum up your approach to business in three words, what would they be?
Innovation, persistence and creativity