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From Brunel to the boardroom

Courtney Wood

I hope to inspire some of those students to go on to set up their own company and become successful designers.

Courtney, Alumni

Founder and Company Director , Bubblegum Stuff

Industrial Design and Technology BA - 2015

From UK

How has appearing on The Apprentice impacted your business?

It’s been fantastic, over the weekend of the final and the week after, people seemed to link me to my business. We had massive sales on the run up to Christmas, as lots of my products are like stocking fillers. So that was a fantastic boost from being on the show.

Since then I have been contacting major high st retailers. Before when I’d email a retailer I’d struggle to get a reply, but since the show, they get back to me quickly. And now we’re talking about getting products placed for next Christmas. So it’s had a massive positive effect on the business

Do you keep in touch with Lord Sugar?

I’ve spoken to him a few times since the final. After the finals he came and spoke to me and said if I want any advice just to let him know.

What's your advice for budding entrepreneurs?

If you set up your own business you’re going to have to give your life to it. You’re going to have to put everything into it. It will consume your life. Because of that you need to choose a business that you enjoy doing because it’s going to be hard and if you don’t enjoy it you’ll give up. You need to be fully committed to the cause.

You need to take calculated risks. I was very lucky that I knew who to make my products with and who to sell them to before I made them. So I knew my products would sell before I risked spending that money. Making sure that you’ve not just got all the outlay without knowing that you have a product that will sell. Keep a close eye on the numbers as well.

How do you support Brunel?

Multiple times I’ve been back. I came and did presentations for the Place West London that Brunel was part of setting up. I’ve also given two lectures to second year design students over the last few years.

I also run a design competition with my company where students come up with ideas for a novelty gift and we can develop that with them. A few years ago we made one student’s design and it’s in the catalogue and it’s doing quite well. We did a competition a few months ago and we’re developing four ideas at the moment. Two of them are looking pretty strong so hopefully we’ll have two ideas from that to take the products into production.

To be honest we did a very similar project when I was at Brunel with Marks and Spencers and for me it was what set me on the path of setting up my own novelty gift business; we had to design a novelty gift for Marks and Spencers and it was a week-long project that I really enjoyed doing. That gave me the inspiration to go on and do what I wanted to do. I spoke to a lecturer and I knew they’d stopped doing that project with them so I was honoured to be invited back and to then run that project with my company. And it has gone incredibly well so hopefully we’ll continue to do it in the near future as well.

Do you enjoy meeting current students?

Definitely! Knowing that I was sat in that room ten years ago – in that very seat doing a very similar project. So I know I have had a quite interesting career path so I hope to inspire some of those students to go on to set up their own company and become successful designers.

What are your future plans for Bubblegumstuff?

At the moment we have products in two High St retailers – Paperchase and Urban Outfitters – and we are currently speaking to supermarkets and department stores for this Christmas.

I flew to San Francisco a few months back as well and we’re hopefully going to be launching products in the US this year as well. So it’s an exciting time and could be a very profitable area for the business.

We’re constantly working on new products. We’ve got nine new products we’ve launched so far this year and I think we have got room to get another five or six in before the end of the year. So we’ll continue to work hard on the product development side and also getting our products successfully placed.

I’ve got an office in Hong Kong. When I first set up the business I lived in Hong Kong for 6 months, I set up an office over there, employed someone to deal with translation and got our first three products made over the border in China. We sold them worldwide to Australia, Germany and Canada. That’s how I started my business – selling internationally. Then after six months I moved back to the UK and started making the UK business the main focus. Now that’s up and running I am now pushing the US market which is a big and tough market to crack but it’s definitely possible this year.