Laura and Kelli from Solar Buddies
Laura and Kelli, owners of Solar Buddies, in their Cwmbran warehouse

Two Cwmbran entrepreneurs are appearing on Dragons’ Den, 12 years after chatting about a business idea for the first time while waiting to collect their children from nursery.

In 2011, Kelli Aspland and Laura Waters stood outside St David’s RC School and talked about the problem of young children being protected from the sun in hot weather.

Those school-run conversations led to the launch of Solar Buddies, a product they describe as the “world’s first child-friendly sunscreen applicator designed specifically for use by children.”

Laura said: “My mate’s son got really badly burned in school. I mentioned it to Kelli, and she said, ‘funny enough, I had a phone call yesterday (from the nursery). The kids had gone in a right mess putting their sunscreen on and teachers just can’t help them’. I said, ‘I know, that’s why my friend’s son got burned because they weren’t allowed to put cream on him’.

“We did a bit of a Google. There was nothing there and Kelli said ‘why don’t we do it?’. And she was being serious and said ‘why can’t we?’. But she was right, ‘why can’t we?’. So we did.”

It was just three weeks from when the pair first met at the school gates to the start of planning a business that has now been pitched to the Dragons, Deborah Meaden, Peter Jones, Sara Davies, Steven Bartlett and Touker Suleyman.

I visited them in their warehouse which is just 300 metres away from the school where Laura and Kelli met.

Designing a prototype

They had an idea but now needed to do some basic drawings and look at other products. Their first stop was Bodycare in Cwmbran in town centre.

Bodycare shop
Bodycare in Cwmbran town centre

Laura said: “We went to Bodycare in town. We kind of had an idea and bought loads of bottles of deodorant and stuff and sponges and started ripping them apart.”

Kelli said: “We wanted to see how they worked, the mechanisms in the twist-up deodorants. We knew what we wanted it to do, the function of it.”

Laura said: “None of us could do CAD drawings (a 2D/ 3D drawing showing each component of a product) to get it to the point of manufacturing so I rang Cardiff Met, the art and design department. We pitched to their undergraduates and they went right back to what the issue was and how can it be fixed?” The university paired them up with an undergraduate student and they met every week.

Kelli said: “We both had young babies and went to Cardiff once a week. It was an 18-month process and was exciting to see it develop.”

Laura said: “We came up with the final idea and we were like ‘we’ll just sell it, we’re not going into manufacturing'” but then a car journey back to Cwmbran with Kelli changed everything.

“I can remember having the conversation with you (Kelli). We were driving down from Pontypool saying ‘we are definitely not going to go into manufacturing.’ Then we decided we couldn’t give it up. I think we launched in March 2015.”

They had investment from Martin Turner, Laura’s stepdad and Hayley Parsons, the founder of GoCompare (and who also grew up in Cwmbran) to get the first batch of products made.

Kelli said: “She (Hayley Parsons) had done so well for herself and was another female entrepreneur. She liked what we were doing and said ‘I’ll help’, and it went from there.”

In 2015, the first stock of Solar Buddies went on the market and sold out following a feature in the Daily Mail. They now sell to customers throughout the world and have distributors set up in New Zealand, Australia, Denmark and Romania.

‘We need to get our brains working again’

Kelli said: “I think me and Laura were in exactly the same place at the same time. We both had new babies. My Harri was 11 months and Laura’s Ioan was six months. We were both at a loose end. I was on child number four, Laura was on number three.

“We both had ‘mummy baby brain’ and were like ‘that’s enough now’. We just needed to get back into something different and this opportunity was so exciting we just thought ‘sod it’, we need to get our brains working again.

“Our mummy brains needed to be turned into something else and we haven’t really looked back.”

The Dragons’ Den experience

Laura said: “We always said we never would (apply for Dragons’ Den) and then one day Kelli said, ‘I’ve just had a pop-up, applications for Dragons’ Den are open’, so I just glanced over and I was like, ‘shall we?’ She  said ‘shall we?’ I said ‘let’s just do it for a laugh and see what happens’.”

Kelli said: “We did it as well because we had been teetering for so long in the business where it was just starting to grow, but we were rocking back and forth, and if we are going to do this, now is the time we are going to do it.

“We were at the end of the applications as well, it was coming to the end of the time frame. We literally started filling everything in. I filmed submitting the application, we took a little picture of it and we were like ‘oh it’s done now’. It then happened very quickly.”

Laura said: “That was the end of March (2022). It was a three-week turnaround and we had a phone call asking us to come up the following Tuesday.”

Kelli said: “We had three weeks to perfect a pitch and remember absolutely everything.”

Watch Kelli and Laura on Dragons’ Den

Tune in to BBC1 Wales at 9pm on Thursday 6 April to see how they get on. The show’s blurb says: “Some entrepreneurial mums pitch a child-friendly sunscreen applicator.”

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