Dec 15, 2016
Pictured (L-R): Michael Nelson, MD of Multichem and David Boath, RTC North at Multichem.
A Hexham ink company which sells worldwide is set to launch a raft of new products as the business sets its sights on expanding outside its traditional market.
Multichem is a market leader in creating inks for whiteboard, permanent markers and highlighter pens, which it manufactures at its Tyne Valley base. Around 99 per cent of its products are exported to more than 30 countries to customers ranging from big brands in the pen industry to smaller own label stationery catalogue suppliers.
The company, which has been trading for more than 40 years and employs 16 people, is working on four product launches from a list of more than 45 ideas from its new product development team and suggestions from customers.
Managing director, Michael Nelson, said: “We hope to have developed the first four in six months but they have a long customer evaluation process, which is standard in the whiteboard market, because a lot of interactions have to be balanced.
“One of the biggest concerns is the environment – some governments consider pens to be consumer products and therefore exempt from regulations, and others consider the pen to be a chemical container and the ink to be a release of chemicals with the potential to cause harm.
“We try to find products that are environmentally safe and legislatively safe.”
The company is also aiming to future-proof itself by diversifying from its main stationery markets into others which can use its skills and equipment, such as coatings technology and cosmetics.
However, Multichem had built up such a backlog of new ideas, it was unsure which to explore next. It called in RTC North for advice through the Government-backed Innovate2Suceed programme, which helps businesses to turn innovation challenges into commercial opportunities.
The programme, which is fully-funded for SMEs with 250 or fewer staff and turnovers below £40 million, provides up to seven days of practical support. RTC North expert David Boath visited Multichem to work through the company’s innovation ideas. The Innovate2succeed project is funded by Innovate UK and the European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.
He said: “The challenge was that they had many ideas to take the business forward but didn’t have the money or the people to support all of them. The project looked at which ones Multichem should be spending money on and which ones would take it forward as a business in the next two to three years.”
David Boath met the new product development team and asked them to look through the ideas, taking ownership of those they could champion. A workshop analysed all 45 and scored them against their potential for success based on market research undertaken by RTC North. Staff then made presentations to a ‘dragons’ den’ style panel of Multichem’s senior management, asking for financial backing to develop their particular product.
David Boath said: “We supported the team to put their pitches together and mentored them while doing the presentations.
“It helped the company to deal with innovative challenges, so they will be able to do it themselves next time.
“In the first instance, we offered practical support with a bespoke offer but we also passed on innovative knowledge and understanding to the management team, so we shouldn’t be needed next time.”
Multichem had worked with RTC North before in the UK Knowledge Transfer Programme and other ideas and incentives to improve the business.
Michael Nelson said: “All the staff enjoyed the sessions immensely. While the projects taken forward are within our current sphere, the skills they’ve learnt will be used moving forward.
“It’s somewhere to channel all this innovative energy and find the next big thing. That’s as important to me as the products – my staff feeling they are developing as part of the process.”
RTC North’s chief executive Andrew Buckley said: “We’re delighted to have been able to help Multichem meet its challenges and look forward to seeing its first tranche of new products come to market. Innovate2Succeed is a fantastic scheme for businesses of all sizes to get to grips with challenges and move on to the next stage of their growth.”