Robin Rendall: 'For a small business like mine, a grant of this size means a great deal.'

Robin Rendall: 'For a small business like mine, a grant of this size means a great deal.'

Posted: Thu 26th Oct 2023

Back in May, Enterprise Nation and digital design and marketing services firm VistaPrint awarded 20 small businesses a share of £150,000 in grant funding through their joint programme Realising the Remarkable.

As well as the grant money, each of the winners received 12 months of free subscriptions to Vista's graphic design software VistaCreate Pro, £500 to spend on marketing materials at the VistaPrint UK website, and access to the 99designs by Vista silver logo and brand guide package.

A few months down the line, we were eager to find out how the grant money and prizes had helped the winning business owners with their ventures. Here, we talk to Robin Rendall, founder of Pongoose, a Dorset company that designs and manufactures unique products for climbers.

Robin, please introduce us to your business.

I started Pongoose in August 2017 and it's been growing slowly and organically since then. The company is registered in Dorset but the manufacturing takes place in Hampshire, just inside the border.

I manufacture and sell a rock-climbing device that I invented and developed over the course of a few years. It's now widely regarded – objectively! – as the best product of its kind in the world by most people who have compared it with the current market leader.

It has many unique features which push it above competitors' devices. Sales are growing year on year as the word spreads, and more people across the world are starting to use the product. So far, I've sold to people in around 25 different countries.

I mainly sell direct to customers via the business's website, with the main customer base being in both the UK and the US. I also sell to a handful of retailers worldwide who specialise in climbing and outdoor gear.

Pongoose is a very small business – it's just me, running the business from home and using the garage as a workshop for manufacturing. I'm now looking at scaling up, which is why I applied for this grant.

When you heard you'd won a Realising the Remarkable grant, how did you respond?

I was so pleased and relieved when I got the news. It was quite exciting to know that I have an injection of money to help propel me forward.

When you work so hard and reinvest every pound back into the business rather than taking a wage, it's a real incentive when you receive this amount of money. It's extremely encouraging and motivational, knowing that you can reach the next goal that bit sooner.

I applied for the Vista grant because running the company on my own requires long days and long weeks. Any form of support that will help me grow and move the business forward is very much appreciated.

As sales have continually been increasing, I've found that I have less and less time to work 'on' the business. Instead of being able to increase output and manufacturing to meet demand, I tend to spend an increasing amount of time in the office doing admin and fighting fires. So in actual fact I've found my ability to increase production has decreased.

Tell us how you've used the grant so far.

The grant has gone towards equipment that will allow me to spend fewer man-hours manufacturing and help me make the finish of my product more uniform and of a higher quality.

As I move forward with the business, I aim to keep heading in this direction with reinvestment to help Pongoose grow. It's a slow process but the investment will hopefully show major benefits in the future.



We're in a cost of living crisis right now. How will the grant help there?

The grant is mainly going to help me invest in equipment I can use to scale up production dramatically. I can also use a portion for advertising and promotion to increase sales.

Scaling up production could potentially lead to me employing staff part-time or full-time to cope with the increased workload of manufacturing and processing orders, mainly to shops and climbing walls both in the UK and across the world. I'd also be able to use a local person to help with social media posting and advertising.

Two of the components I need for the main product are produced by a small, local plastic injection moulding company less than five minutes from where Pongoose is based. Increasing production will have an obvious knock-on effect for this local business.

I feel it's important to keep as much business and money flowing within the local community and the UK as a whole. I also sell climbing brushes (used to clean chalk from climbing holds), which I've manufactured in the UK as opposed to a company in China or somewhere else overseas.

And how will the grant aid your design and marketing?

It means I'm more able to afford a helping hand in this area. That would then free up my time to push forward quicker and let me work on other product designs, hopefully gaining an advantage over my competitors in the process.

Why do you feel your business deserves this grant?

So far, I've proven that there's a legitimate place within the climbing industry market for my product and my company's brand. It's a quality product that sells itself, and with the help of the grant I can capitalise on this fact.

Climbing has recently been added to the Olympics and is one of the fastest-growing sports activities in the world, with new facilities and areas being developed all the time. Being at the heart of this industry, and a climber myself, gives me the opportunity to grow a successful and robust business.

I have a unique and an already proven product behind me, and with the opportunities that this grant affords me, I should easily be able to increase sales, develop more products and reaffirm my brand's place in this growing market.

For a small business like mine, a grant of this size means a great deal. It allows me to invest in the company as I know best and keep control of the direction of the business without having the pressures that outside investors often impose.

Finally, what are your plans for growth over the next 12 months?

The way sales have been increasing over the last few years, I'll likely hit the VAT threshold sometime this year. That means I'll need to increase my production and scale up to meet demand and counteract the effects of this on my business.

Once I hit the VAT threshold, my profit margins are likely to go down slightly. And even though margins will change, more opportunity should open up with regards to retailers throughout Europe and within the UK. I also hope to develop more product lines and this grant will give me the opportunity to do this sooner than expected.


Realising the Remarkable: A £150,000 cash grant programme by Enterprise Nation and VistaPrint

Other Realising the Remarkable success stories

Enterprise Nation has helped thousands of people start and grow their businesses. Led by founder, Emma Jones CBE, Enterprise Nation connects you to the resources and expertise to help you succeed.

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