An entrepreneurial couple who invented a life-saving road safety device are preparing for global expansion following support from the University of Leeds' Help to Grow Scheme.
An entrepreneurial couple who invented a life-saving road safety device are preparing for global expansion following support from the University of Leeds Help to Grow Scheme.
Sarah and Simon Scaife created AirBar, which can be fitted to a vehicle to create a safer zone for those working at the roadside.
The AirBar encourages passing vehicles to give more space, and alerts cyclists to the dangerous blind spot when passing a turning vehicle.
As a result, weekly accidents in their business, Nuvech, have dropped to zero, sparking interest from road recovery companies, builder’s merchants and highway maintenance bodies, who encounter similar problems.
Sarah knew she needed help to develop the business, which is based in Ripon and has a factory in Leeds, so she registered for the University of Leeds’ Help to Grow programme, designed specifically to give business support to senior leaders in small and medium businesses across all sectors.
Although Sarah was adept at figures, she felt she needed assistance with matters such as devising long-term strategies, human resources and identifying new markets.
She said: “Neither me nor my husband Simon went to university or knew anything about the manufacturing industry. My background is in finance and my husband had many years’ experience in the car transport industry, having worked up from being a driver to an operational manager.”
They set up a company training people how to operate car transporters but found it difficult to eliminate all risks.
A major advantage of the system is that it can deploy automatically with the left turn signal at slow speeds, alerting cyclists to the vehicle’s dangerous blind spot.
It took two-and-a-half years to develop the finished product.
Sarah said: “There was nothing else like it on the market. We developed it as a modular system which meant that if a part needed replacing, you didn’t have to replace the whole piece of equipment.
“This makes it very cost effective, and it can be tweaked to work for different types of vehicles. It also has powerful LED lights so is even more visible at night-time which is particularly important of course.”
She has now sold the AirBar across Europe, Japan and Australia, with their largest customer being an American company that is in talks with manufacturers to fit it to all auto transportation trucks as standard.
She is also delighted that the AirBar won the Innovation Award at the Logistic Leaders’ Network event held in October 2023 in Stratford-upon-Avon.
“The help we have had on the way to achieving this kind of success has been amazing,” said Sarah.
The Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership was instrumental in securing investment, but she also praises Leeds University Business School.
“People on the course came from all different backgrounds and had very different types of businesses. We often shared how we dealt with issues and problems, and we are still part of a WhatsApp group that shares ideas. Everybody wants everyone else to succeed.”
Sarah said: “I am autistic and so I learn and process things in a different way to a lot of people. I was really concerned about joining the Help to Grow programme and I thought I would be out of my depth.
“However, the course was delivered in a really effective way. We covered the whole spectrum of learning methods and were given 1:1 sessions with a mentor.
“My mentor was Jo Smith, Founder and Managing Director of the Goalgetter Organisation Ltd, and she was amazing. I struggled to see how I could implement some of the course content, but Jo showed me how I could use the advice and information I was being taught, in my own business. For me, the mentoring was particularly valuable.”
The 12-week course used a mix of in-person and online learning.
The Government pays 90% of the fees and the company pays the remainder – £750.
“People on the course came from all different backgrounds and had very different types of businesses,” said Sarah. “We often shared how we dealt with issues and problems, and we are still part of a WhatsApp group that shares ideas. Everybody wants everyone else to succeed.
“I was encouraged by a previous participant to join the course. I was plagued by self-doubt, but he told me that the course would give me confidence – and it really has. Now I have the knowledge, ideas and the direction as to how to take my business forward. It was well worth it.”
For further information
For further information contact Jane Lewis in the University of Leeds press office.