Kim McAllister: An idea is just an idea until you make it happen

Michael Harkins with Richard Branson
Michael Harkins with Richard Branson

Ideas are the easy bit.

We all have ideas for the next big thing – my husband and his friend are convinced their golf-bag-buggy-with-baby-seat invention will set the heather on fire.

It’s taking that idea to market and actually selling it that’s the tricky part.

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Michael Harkins is a great example of a person who had an idea and ran with it.

The swimming instructor invented the Turtle Pack – a swimming aid for children – back in 2015. This week Sir Richard Branson posted pictures of his grandchildren wearing them.

“Before I started my entrepreneurial venture I would constantly hold myself back at school, swimming and university because I set barriers in front of myself. Now, if I can believe it, I certainly can achieve it,” he told me.

The 25 year old from Livingstone first entered his prototype into the Sports Innovation Challenge – when he won he thought he might be on to something.

The swimming aid teaches children to swim in the correct body position with their arms free. It’s multi-functional and progressive – the turtle shell floats get smaller as the child gains more confidence.

The Turtle Pack in action
The Turtle Pack in action

“Since the birth of the idea I have received lots of help and support from various organisations including Business Gateway West Lothian through various one-to-one mentoring, workshops, IP and manufacturing support,” he said. He is now on the Scottish Enterprise Growth Pipeline programme and recently won a six figure sum from Scottish Edge.

“The lowest point of my journey was when I came off the high of winning £110,000 in the Scottish Edge competition,” he admitted. “It was such an emotional experience but afterwards, I just felt quite low. Starting a business requires great discipline, sacrifices and hard work. It is a lonely journey most of the time and it can affect people mentally.”

Michael has big plans for the company – he wants to be the number 1 learn-to-swim brand globally by 2025 and would like to develop more products.

“If I had to give entrepreneurs one piece of advice it would be: give yourself time,” he said. “Focus on your strengths and find those around you to improve your weaknesses. Every day is a school day, be open to learning something new constantly.”

Other video interviews by Kim McAllister

Video interview with Russell Dalgleish of Scottish Business Network – High Growth Scotland with Kim McAllister

High Growth articles from Kim McAllister

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