Continuing our peak the people who have inspired me the most, here's the story of a man who refused to take no for an answer. “As long as you've got slightly more perception than the average wrapped loaf, you could invent something,” a typically, no-nonsense piece of advice from wind-up radio guy, Trevor Baylis. He also said, “The key to success is to risk thinking unconventional thoughts. Convention is the enemy of progress.” True to his word, Trevor Baylis has always been a very unconventional thinker.
After completing his National Service as a physical instructor, Baylis combined his two loves, swimming and engineering, to sell free-standing swimming pools. Finding that sales increased when he “messed about” in the pools at exhibitions, he was spotted and hired as an underwater escape act for the Berlin Circus. Inspired by the plight of injured stunt performers in Berlin, he founded Orange Aids, became an inventor and created over 200 products to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Things didn't end well when he agreed to a less than equitable deal with a group of investors: “...there is only one person I blame for getting shafted, and that’s myself. I went into the deal which I thought would secure the future of Orange Aids with culpable impetuosity. I had been used to doing business on a handshake and my word of honour, and I made the error of actually believing what the men in the pin-striped suits told me.”
Years later, while watching a documentary about HIV and AIDS in Africa, he discovered a much grander potential for his life improving ideas.
Health education was critical to helping prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS in Africa. Radio was the key but electricity was scarce and batteries expensive. Inspired by Ernest Hemingway's wind-up gramophone player, he patented his prototype wind-up radio in 1991 and set out selling the idea to every company he could think of. They all turned him away. Experts from the Design Council told him his idea would be “unlikely to succeed.” Various engineering specialists wrote him off.
As the pile of rejection letters got higher, his skin got thicker. He said, “One of the most beautiful things that every happened to me was when I first fell in love with myself. I don't mind anybody looking down on me as long as they don't expect me to be looking up.”
His breakthrough came with the BBC World Service. They loved it. Television, awards, and worldwide recognition soon followed. In the end, though the Design Council said, “No”, Nelson Mandela said, “Yes”. Trevor Baylis has since been awarded eleven honorary degrees from UK universities, the World Vision Award for Development Initiative, and in 1997, the OBE.
Understandably, he's is weary of “suits”, especially pin-striped venture capitalists. He's been fobbed-off and ripped-off too many times to secure a deal on a good old-fashioned handshake.
“Nobody pays you for a good idea,” he says, “but they might pay you for a piece of paper that says you own that idea.”
His advice is simple: “Always follow your dreams, but make sure you patent them first.”
His most memorable quote (and there are plenty to choose from): “As they say: art is pleasure, invention is treasure, and this nation has got to recognise that. If they can spend a fortune on dead sheep and formaldehyde, then it can spend a bit more of that money on inventors.”