Five minutes with Ruth Amos
Ruth Amos’s business began life as a GCSE project. What started as a coursework project around resistant materials has become a product that is sold around the world.
The StairSteady is a specialised handrail that helps people safely and securely manage stairs. Ruth, who was recognised at the age of 16 as a Young Engineer for Britain award-winner, now sells and licenses the StairSteady across the UK and internationally. She is also the founder of Signature, a web design company, and The Drols, a tech toy company that helps children learn through playing.
"I owe a lot of my success to the support I have been given"
People have been really generous with their experience, telling me about problems and how they had overcome things in the industry. I have been grateful to win the Young Engineer for Britain and Management Today’s Top Women Under 35 awards as it has given credibility and the ability to grow. Those networks have been invaluable; without them I wouldn’t be where I am today.
"I think everyone should be entrepreneurial"
When you talk to young people today they have to make so many choices at such a young age and I think it’s important that they don’t forget about entrepreneurship. We need to encourage them to keep options open and to consider STEM subjects as they open up a lot of careers. We need to be more entrepreneurial and we need to be looking at what we are teaching our children so that they are able to compete in the world of work in 20 or 30 years’ time. Whether you are going to work in a business or run a business, you need to understand how business works.
"How we measure a vibrant economy is critical"
A vibrant economy is not just about money. There are so many ways of measuring a vibrant economy; how happy we are and how educated society is plays an important role. I think a vibrant economy is one where we have a variety of businesses at different stages and in different industries – when you have an economy that is built on one sector alone, that is not as exciting as having an economy where we do a number of things well.
"The StairSteady came from solving a personal need, personal inspiration"
It was not the more traditional story of spotting a gap in the market and going for it. The personal inspiration for the StairSteady came from my teacher’s father. He had a stroke and couldn’t use a stairlift, so my teacher set me the challenge of developing something to enable him to keep using the stairs and keep active. That’s where the initial challenge to design the StairSteady came from.
"We always want to work with people that are dedicated to helping others"
We instil that belief in our mobility dealers, and one of the first things we do in their training is tell them that if the product isn’t right for someone, then don’t sell it to them. It’s not about a quick sale. We are about the long haul and giving the right customer service, whether that means taking the time to make sure someone gets a hand-written letter if they can’t hear very well, then that’s what we want to do.
"People were a little shocked when they had to talk to an 18 year-old running a business"
My business partner – who looked after the factory and the manufacturing process – was approaching retirement, so we were at entirely different ends of the spectrum when it came to business. At times it was a strange combination, but it did give me access to a lot of experience. We were an interesting group – when we did our first trade show at the NEC, I brought my younger sister on work experience who was 15 at the time, my parents and my web designers. We were exhibiting alongside established sales teams and big corporations, but we were very passionate about the product and that really helped.
"We don’t communicate between businesses and sectors well enough"
The Vibrant Economy day in Sheffield was an open invitation to anyone at any level who wanted to get involved, and there were people that I met that could prove invaluable in my network in the future. You never know where those connections might take you.
"I gave myself three years of dedication to the business before I had to go to university"
I never ended up going. In the early stages of the business, I focused on R&D and ensuring that the product was ready to sell. At that point, it was still a prototype that I had installed for one friend of mine, but people wanted to buy it… By the end of those three years I had started selling the StairSteady and had set up other companies, so I thought I would focus on the business.
"We are focused on making someone’s life better"
Whilst I was designing the product I never looked at it from a business point of view. People rallied around the fact that StairSteady was made with helping people in mind, and not because I thought I could make money from it.