Design Fellowship 2010

Tell us a little about yourself and KwickScreen
Founded in 2009, KwickScreen designs and manufactures the best flexible privacy solutions in the world. Our portable, retractable partition screens provide innovative solutions that bridge the gap between functional industrial design and artistic interiors, enabling users to create private, personalised spaces adaptable to multiple uses, primarily in the healthcare market.

KwickScreen

Michael Korn : Chief Innovation Officer and Founder
Michael gained an MEng in Manufacturing Engineering from Cambridge University, then worked in industry for a year before gaining a scholarship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 to study for a Masters in Industrial Design Engineering at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London. During this course Michael won Design and Entrepreneurship awards from the RCA and the Business School at Imperial. This funded the start of KwickScreen which came out of his final year project.

Michael has spent the last 12 years in the field of infection control and space management and has been focussed on improving and refining the KwickScreen product range as well as growing the company.

Denis Anscomb: Chief Financial Officer and Co-founder
Denis read Maths at Bristol and then worked as an Analyst at Morgan Staney and then a Bond Trader at London Capital Partners before doing an MBA at LBS in Finance and Entrepreneurship. Denis co-founded KwickScreen to commercialise Micahel’s final year project, and led the commercialisation of the business, focussing on sales, and building distributor relationships. Denis now lives in San Francisco, California where he is helping to grow the KwickScreen Inc business in North America, as this market represents a huge opportunity. In his role as CFO, Denis is now facilitating discussions with potential investors and exploring opportunities for M&A activity to further accelerate the growth of the business.

What made you apply for the 1851 Royal Commission Design Fellowship?
1851 sponsored me to study Industrial Design Engineering at the RCA where I invented a number of products which I wanted to commercialise on graduation. After a year of trying, it became clear that the most likely product to succeed was the KwickScreen. I did not want to go about raising money to commercialise this idea, as any valuation would have been very low, and I wanted to get stuck into designing and making a soon as I could. Denis and I were fascinated by the dynamics of the creative and manufacturing industries - as we saw lots of product design engineers with inventions struggling with the same predicament. Our approach was always very pragmatic and action orientated. We believed that the best way to move the business and product forwards was to immerse ourselves in the real words of manufacturing the product and hospitals who are using the product.

What impact did the Design Fellowship have on your business?
The fellowship gave us financial freedom to continue to bootstrap the business and focus on things that mattered. We visited and had discussions about subcontract partnerships with 5 manufacturing partners and trialed the prototypes in tens of hospitals around the country. This led to us selecting a partnership with Ultima displays - the perfect fit for us at the time, and the feedback from the real-life user-trials informed the product development that followed and also led to some much needed early sales. The learnings from the research are as relevant today as they were back then as the business remains at the intersection of the creative and productive industry. The lessons learned from seeing how most businesses operate and how we can add significant value to the supply chain have directed the strategy of the business to be both user-centred, innovative, and also control the means of production.

KwickScreen

What are the most important lessons you learnt whilst undertaking the Fellowship?
I should not assume how industries work. If I want to know how people do things, then go and visit them. If I want to know why they do things that way, then ask them. If I can think of a better way of doing things then do it, and see if it works. Keep improving what I’m doing, and if something works then keep doing it. I learnt that in order to get started I’d need to work with other companies and to do this, I’d have to fit in with the way that they operate. It was easier to change myself than it was to change them - as such I learnt the importance of being flexible, agile, accommodating, polite, humble and nice :-)

What stage is your business at now and what does the future hold for KwickScreen?
The company had a turnover of £1.2m y/e March 2019, £2.2m y/e March 2020, and shipped £1m in April 2020. We anticipate revenues of >£5m this year and continued growth for the foreseeable future as we supersede the medical curtain market, and also launch more products that improve the patient space. We will continue to invest in both R&D/NPD and also our manufacturing capability to ensure we can remain responsive, innovative and competitive.

What advice do you have for potential applicants to the Design Fellowship?
Apply for the fellowship if the money and topic are of interest and need to you. I’d encourage applicants to think about both the short and long term benefits from their topic - as the learnings, contacts and relationships are potentially something that could help you for years to come.