Helping to protect children from the sun

Kelli Aspland and Laura Waters, above, from Cwmbran in South Wales, set up Solar Buddies in 2011. Here, SME Magazine catches up with them to hear the story of their success and they start by telling us about what inspired them to set up the business

Laura: We launched Solar Buddies so that our children would have a safe, no-mess way to apply sun cream. Our children’s schools had ‘no touch’ policies in place, so during the school day, they had to put on their sun cream without the help of a grown-up. Sometimes they’d come home burnt, and once Kelli was called into school because her five and eight year old had managed to get sun cream all over the school toilets – ruining their uniforms in the process!

Kelli: Solar Buddies have a sponge and rollerball technology so that sun cream can be applied in a controlled manner. Our products have child-friendly grips and are brightly coloured so that they appeal to children. We hope that by using our product, children will learn the very important lesson of sun safety.

How did you two meet? What do each of you bring to the business?

Kelli: Our children went to the same nursery, so we met there and hit it off immediately. Laura focuses on finances and logistics. I lead on creative and look after data — both of us work on advertising and marketing.

What challenges have you faced along the way and how did you overcome them?

Laura: Before launching Solar Buddies, neither of us had a business background. We were both just in the right place to do something different with our lives after being stay-at-home mums. So we’ve had to work hard to learn about patenting, product design, marketing and the rest of it! It’s been a steep learning curve which is fun, but challenging at times.

Kelli: We’ve learnt along the way that it’s so important to have confidence in your own brand. Once, a potential client convinced us to change the name of our business – to better suit the health sector. It went down really badly with our audience, so we quickly came to our senses and changed the name to Solar Buddies. Now we take our time and do our research before making any big changes.

You have recently secured an £80,000 investment from Deborah Meaden and Peter Jones on Dragons’ Den. What was it like appearing on the show, and what will the investment allow you to do?

Kelli: Entering the den was nerve wracking. You always see people getting such a grilling it had put us off applying for the show in the past. But we were at the point in our business where we wanted to step things up a gear and this was the perfect timing and opportunity. The £80k investment has enabled us to order enough stock to keep up with demand.

What advice would you give any people who are thinking about starting their own business?

Laura: It’s not something to enter into lightly, but it’s definitely worth pursuing if you have the right mindset. We have found it tough, but you learn something new every day – which is really fulfilling. Nobody is fully qualified to run a business. You learn as you go from your wins and losses and you end up wearing many hats. My advice would be to get your finances right and know your market. Then you’ll be off to a good start.

Where do you hope the business will be in, say, five or ten years?

Kelli: We hope the brand will be even more established across the world and that our product will be widely recognised within the sun care industry.

Solar Buddies