A West Midlands businessman has criticised regional development agencies for not doing enough to help fledgling companies.
Wilf Lamb, managing director of Lichfield-based 1 Call Research & Development, failed to get backing for the final tests of his proposals – despite interest from business advisors.
Mr Lamb said: “We’ve got a brilliant product, truly innovative, and yet we can’t get anywhere with it.
“It’s so frustrating because we keep on going to different agencies, and they keep finding excuses not to help us. We’re banging our heads against a brick wall.”
Mr Lamb, an electronic engineer, spent three-and-a-half years developing Comfort Zone central heating, which enables householders to programme the settings of their heating room-by-room. The company say their system can reduce central heating bills by 40 per cent through timers on heaters, controlled through a central computerised interface.
And the Nechells-born businessman is angry his business plan has been knocked back.
“We have a product that is environmentally-friendly, we have spent thousands of our own money developing, and we have manufacturers interested in, and yet the organisations supposedly helping small businesses don’t want to know.
“The government talks about helping start-up companies, and yet the support is not there. We have approached banks, funding agencies and grant providers and are getting nowhere. People keep on saying local businesses are vital, but we are tearing our hair out.”
The idea came about, Mr Lamb explains, when his children insisted on turning the heating on throughout the house, although it was only needed in a few rooms. The entrepreneur realised there was a need for a system which could be programmed to heat rooms as needed, when needed, from an easily accessible centralised system.
Mr Lamb, 55, formed the company with childhood friend Raymond Rich, sales and marketing director, and Martin Bowman, an electronic design engineer. The three are keen to get the business off the ground as soon as possible, assisted by designers at Warwick University, manufacturers in Berkshire, and now wanting to complete the final stages of testing at Loughborough University.
Having spent £18,000 patenting their design, the trio took their proposals to British Gas, who registered an interest in purchasing the product once final testing was complete.
The head of energy technology and innovation, Martin Orrill, said: “We are impressed with your draft concept which looks very innovative, and can confirm our interest.”
But Advantage West Midlands refused to grant funding. spokesman Will Harpur said: “Advantage West Midlands encourages and welcomes applications for Government grants for research and development (GRD) and over three years have approved 71 grants worth £5.3million.
“All GRD applications are reviewed in detail by external independent technical assessors to ensure the criteria for support is met. Whilst we would not comment on individual applications, it is important to note the assessors review submissions against a number of factors, including level of innovation, likely technical risk and commercial viability.
“Unsuccessful applicants are invited to re-submit their application for a further, final assessment. If they choose to re-submit, we encourage them to take into account the points raised in their rejection letter. We also encourage applicants to contact Business Link West Midlands, who are able to offer assistance with GRD applications.”
Despite the refusals, Mr Lamb insists he is determined to get his product into the marketplace.
“It’s gutting to have invested so much, and just not get the necessary support,” he said.