Women In Innovation: Chocolate Manufacturing In The UK

19/12/2016 14:10

I am a mother of a 3½ going on 13 daughter, wife to a British husband, daughter to Chinese parents and hopefully increasingly an innovator. I run the confectionary division at DPS Designs. I'm also a co-founder of Picnic for Peace, an initiative to promote tolerance and multiculturalism.

Despite it being renowned for innovation for centuries, growing up in central China in the grey days of the 1980s/90s before China found its feet again, innovation and creativity were not concepts that we were that familiar with. Globalisation hadn't really happened to us and winters were marked by eating very large amounts of carrots and cabbage! I was inspired early on by art, and in China that meant Chinese fine art, which I studied for 12 years outside school time. This taught me a huge amount about patience and attention to detail. My dad has always been creative and despite being a maths professor, has always been writing poetry and calligraphy. He taught me that good things always come from not giving up, and they tend to happen just before you do!

Now I call the UK my home; living half between the Welsh countryside and London, and developing a new moulding technique in the chocolate industry; probably the first innovation of its kind for 100 years. But, as you can imagine, it took a while to get here from China. It started with taking the difficult decision to move to the UK on my own aged 16 where I graduated from the business school in Nottingham University before following this with a masters in marketing. Then, I fell into the confectionary industry as a technologist for the toys that are sold with chocolates, designing out hazards to make them safe. This gave me a brilliant grounding in how to balance form, function and - crucially - cost.

From there I moved into the fashion retail world. At Arcadia Group, I worked on a range of business areas and projects from technical to logistics management and was a business lead on a multi-million pound supply chain transformation project. This gave me a taste of creative fashion design, large business and multiple stakeholder management. It taught me that it's not enough to have a good idea and that many (many) different factors need to come together to bring an idea to life. It also gave me my passion for process innovation which I feel is generally considered to be less exciting than making shiny new things but can often make a massive difference to a business.

After eight years, I had an opportunity to join my father in law at DPS Designs, where I found myself being able to bring my technical, creative, marketing, stakeholder and customer management skills all together, working with some amazing businesses such as M&S, Hotel Chocolat, Artisan du Chocolat and Thornton's.

DPS designs chocolates, manufactures chocolate moulds, and makes aerospace tooling (strangely they are quite similar!). It is a small but amazing and inspiring company and we are constantly looking to innovate - and this time - create a step-change in the world of chocolate moulding. Generally speaking, only two basic techniques have been used in chocolate moulding for over 100 years - one which makes shapes like chocolate bars, and one which makes shapes like Easter eggs. We've come up with a third way to make much more intricate products. It's already been trialled with M&S at a very labour-intensive level and it's shown to be successful. With the help of the funding, we plan to develop the technology further and commercialise it.

One of the way we'll do this is through additional funding secured through my recent involvement with Innovate UK's Women in Innovation awards. It has been a hugely positive process; giving me the confidence and then the capital and support to press forward with bringing this innovation to market. There is so much to learn, but we are learning fast and we have many more ideas in the pipeline if I can make this one work. People glibly say "the UK doesn't make anything anymore". We know that's not true and in our perhaps small way we want to fly the flag for British manufacturing and personally I want to help to inspire other women, and ethnic minorities in the industry to be innovators too.

For other women, innovators, entrepreneurs looking to progress their ideas, I've got three tips to share:
  • Remember that you can be an innovator without being an "inventor". Innovation is not all Dragons Den and being the next James Dyson. Innovation can come in so many different forms.
  • You need to be resilient. There is no substitute for hard work. Be strong and don't be afraid of different voices.
  • You need to take people with you. Innovation on its own often can't happen without a large number of people bought in, and a large support network.

Fanzi & Innovate UK:

Fanzi has just been honoured as one of the 15 winners of Innovate UK's 2016 Women in Innovation awards, a series of awards dedicated to addressing the disproportionately low numbers of women entrepreneurs in the UK. Here, over a series of 15 posts we'll meet the inspiring innovators and entrepreneurs that Innovate UK is celebrating, each of whom will receive a tailored business support package, expert business mentor and £50,000 to help them reach their full potential.

Dr. Ruth McKernan CBE and Chief Executive of Innovate UK says: 'From fully autonomous drone software to affordable solar power technology and even a digital education portal which engages school children with the molecular world, the calibre of ideas is an eye-opening view into the talent and vision of the UK's female entrepreneurs. It is very clear that harnessing the talent of women entrepreneurs could significantly enhance UK economic growth. I am delighted that we are taking action; supporting and funding female entrepreneurs to help them succeed and inspire other women to come forward, apply for funding and turn their ideas into successful business.'

If you have an innovation or business idea and are looking for support then visit www.innovateuk.gov.uk for further information - go for it!

You can follow Innovate UK on Twitter at @innovateuk or subscribe to their YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/InnovateUK.

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