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In the first of our series of six interviews looking at the innovation process we talked to Ian Spreadborough, MD of magnetised flooring company IOBAC. BRE first met IOBAC when the participated and won the Knowledge Transfer Network’s Innovation Zone at Ecobuild 2012.

IOBAC’s technology takes standard forms of installing flooring and simplifies this into a streamlined process. Moreover, by fixing floor tiles without adhesive, the subfloor is not damaged when tiles are removed and the tiles themselves are not contaminated with adhesive, making it easy for them to be stored, cleaned, re-used and recycled. Visit the IOBAC YouTube channel for more details about the process and a demonstration of how it works.

According to Ian the biggest challenge IOBAC faced was commercialising the product. IOBAC strongly believe in the need to collaborate with and listen to the industry. The built environment is a complex sector and in order to get to market they had to engage with a range of stakeholders, including specifiers, designers, contractors, clients and many more besides. When dealing with a disruptive technology, that changes the modus operandi, educating and engaging with the market and understanding the decision processes and drivers of each stakeholder is critical to success.

Finding the right partners is key to successfully entering a market. The temptation for many innovators is to hold back, but this ultimately leads to isolation. IOBAC collaborated with Interface who already had a magnetised carpet tile, Karndean DesignFlooring, a leading supplier of luxury vinyl tiles, and 3M one of the world’s largest supplier of resins. Whilst they collaborated with these companies, IOBAC were careful to ensure that it was an approved supplier arrangement opening up opportunities for future collaborations with others in the sector.

Engaging with the organisations that are there to support SMEs is critical for any innovator. Support and engagement with organisations such as BRE, UKTI and the KTN can really help innovators make the right connections and gain new understanding to help commercialise their product.

Understanding the market and retaining focus has also been a key feature of IOBAC’s success. By focussing on the retail sector and really understanding the drivers and dynamics of that specific market, they are now in a position where they are talking to eight of the UK’s top ten retailers and are poised to enter the US market with advanced discussions with two of the top US retailers.

The temptation to look at other market sectors is very strong, but Ian advises sticking to a targeted approach in the initial stages of the commercialisation process. Being relentless in your approach and passionately believing in what you are trying to achieve is very important, there are bound to be knock-backs, especially when dealing with such a disruptive technology. Listening to and learning from others will ultimately lead to success.

Further details of the IOBAC technology is available from www.iobac.com

Ali Nicholl
About the Author
Innovation Network Manager @BRE_Group helping companies to innovate within the built environment. All opinions my own.

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