Lord Sugar told his budding apprentices: “I’ve never met an engineer who can turn his hand to business.” Well, it looks to me as if he’s finally seen the light: Tom Pellereau, this year’s winner of The Apprentice, is a self-confessed inventor.
It’s easy to scoff at Tom’s first invention, the Stylfile (“You’re nails aren’t flat, so why are nail files?”), which he made in his kitchen after studying engineering at Bath University. But it’s people like him – the dogged inventors and obsessive engineers – who give every good business its foundation. Alan knows that without them, he wouldn’t have made his fortune. So it doesn’t surprise me that he hired one of them.
In Britain, we are too quick to champion the money-men who spin a quick buck. Let’s hope that Tom’s success marks a return to the celebration of the creative, logical, problem-solving men – those like Babbage and Turing who pioneered the computers that evolved into Amstrads and the PC.
It wasn’t that long ago that I was battling away with the 5,216 prototypes that preceded my first fully functioning bagless vacuum cleaner. This exhaustive approach is a very British one, and it still exists. I knew from the outset that I had an idea which would blow the socks off the vacuum cleaning industry. So I toiled away, exhaustively refining every tiny detail. Unfortunately for me, the major manufacturers weren’t interested, so I went it alone.
Dyson is searching high and low to recruit engineering graduates; we’re doubling our research and development team to 700. Perhaps a new engineering celebrity will lead to more students taking up design and engineering. Design and technology is the most popular GCSE choice – but it’s not being followed through.
Tom’s curvy nail file might not yet be in the same league as the Mini or the jet engine, but it’s a great example of British inventive spirit. The James Dyson Award, which seeks to support young inventors, has had some fantastic designs submitted to it this year. There are two weeks until the closing date, but I’ve already seen some superb examples of problem-solving. Ideas such as collapsible bicycle helmets, an emergency inflatable capsule and the weight-shifting mobile are all competing for this year’s top prize of £20,000.
We British are a clever and ingenious bunch when we put our minds to it. Let’s celebrate Tom’s victory, but let that not be the end of it. In our schools and colleges, there are modest heroes waiting to fulfil their potential. Believe it or not, they’ll lead us forward. Ideas are our currency and the world is hungry for them.