Architect and Designer Julio Dunbar is a beneficiary of the Get Started project. Since founding the business in 2012, Julio has utilised his award-winning design skills on a number of projects, he says:
“It’s quite difficult to pinpoint the business at the moment because I’m working on so many different things, but essentially it all stems from my background in architecture and design.
“FORMinVOID has been running for just over a year now and I’ve been working on a combination of furniture, lighting and insulation designs for various clients. I’ve now managed to place my conceptual furniture designs with a number of boutique high-street retailers in London and the South East.”
With a Masters degree in architecture under his belt and several years’ experience working within architecture firms in London, Glasgow and Amsterdam, Julio credits the encouragement he received from a colleague as the inspiration for taking the leap into self-employment:
“I’m reluctant to say that I fell into it, but in many ways that’s what happened. My colleague saw a few of my designs for furniture and encouraged me to pursue it further that I really thought seriously about setting up on my own.”
Asked about the importance of the IOEE’s Get Started project in helping him to realise his success, Julio says,
“Quite simply, it’s allowed me to play with a greater number of materials – better quality materials. When you start out building prototypes for furniture products you’re really stuck with plywood because it’s a cheap material to use. But thanks to the funding I’ve received from Get Started I can now work with hardwoods, use high-quality brass doweling in my fittings and generally produce a more impressive and eye catching level of prototype.
“Spending more money during the design process can be really important to getting the right end product and attracting interest from retailers. Without the support of the start-up loan I wouldn’t have been able to get to this stage – or at least, not as quickly as I have.
The Get Started loan has also allowed Julio to explore new areas of design, such as his recent expansion into lighting design. As one of the more profitable areas of product design, Julio has shrewdly identified this as an opportunity to expand the FORMinVOID range.
“Lighting design is perhaps a little bit more lucrative than the furniture I started out with. But it’s only now that I have the funding that I can afford to go to the glass-blower or welder and try to bring my designs to life.”
Through Get Started, Julio is also able to benefit from the support of a business mentor. He says that knowing this type of service is available to him whenever he needs it is a real comfort. Julio also believes that by applying for the loan, he has been encouraged to think more broadly about the future of his business:
“It’s not just about being given a pot of money to speculate with. To access the funding I had to develop a clear business plan – even for new business owners who know exactly where they want to go and what they want to achieve, that is a worthwhile exercise because it helps to focus the mind and you’ve got a document to refer back to.
Now with the tricky first year of trading behind him, Julio has his mind firmly set on taking FORMinVOID from strength to strength:
“In the immediate future, I want to extend the FORMinVOID product range and get my designs into more retail outlets. But my real passion is for housing. My background is in architecture and I’ve recently been presented with an amazing opportunity to produce housing designs for affordable housing pods to be deployed as part of a private–public initiative. If I win the contract, it will be a minimum 3-year project.”
Asked if he would recommend the Get Started project to other budding entrepreneurs, Julio says,
“Of course. I’d tell them that it’s a great opportunity, but that you need to be serious about where your company is going.
“Owning a business is non-stop and it can be seriously challenging. Every start-up faces its own set of challenges – my biggest one has been cash-flow because I have to buy materials up front and may not see a return until months after the first sales go through the tills of a retailer.The key is how you are going to invest that start-up loan and make the most of the opportunity.”
Of Julio’s rapidly expanding business, Get Started project manager Allison Francis says:
“Julio encapsulates everything Get Started represents – a driven entrepreneur with an exciting business who can achieve genuine success with the right kind of financial and business support. The future is certainly bright for FORMinVOID and we are looking forward to helping more businesses achieve their goals in the future.”