Turtle Pack, bringing children out of their shell
In 2016 VisitScotland Business Events launched an exciting new campaign targeting the MICE market: Legends. This campaign showcases the sector strengths in Scotland from bio-engineering, to digital technology, life sciences, space and engineering. As part of the campaign we ran a competition to discover the Young Legends of tomorrow, to meet those young people in Scotland who are working on incredible new ideas that will strengthen our advanced sectors, and who may just have the next idea that can become a Legend. In this blog we meet Michael Harkins, an award winning young entrepreneur on a mission to make learning to swim easier and more fun.
By Michael Harkins, founder and CEO of Turtle Pack
I was inspired to create Turtle Pack by the people who use it – kids! Swimming should be an experience filled with fun and useful learning, but for a lot of kids it simply isn’t. I’ve been teaching children to swim for over 10 years, and the idea of Turtle Pack came from my frustration at what was available to kids and parents during that time. I remember thinking “Why isn’t there something that lets kids swim in the correct position AND use their arms and legs at the same time?”. To give some background; when a child is holding a noodle or float, they can only really focus on their legs, whilst their upper body tends to be lifted out of the water. Existing products also lacked progression – they didn’t grow with the child or adapt as swimming ability increased.
I knew that attaching a swimming aid to child’s back would support them both physically and emotionally; becoming a turtle gives kids a reason to want to get in the water in the first place, whilst the design keeps them in the right position once they’re in the pool. It’s also fun to play and pretend! Too many adults forget that learning a new skill - particularly in an environment as potentially-intimidating as a swimming pool – can be really scary. I’m so proud to have created a product for kids that’s as educational as it is fun.
Going from Idea to Reality
After having the ‘spark moment’ whilst at the pool, I began drafting up an idea of what a turtle back pack might look like – it was comically simple, but I still have that first drawing in my office to remind me how far I’ve come! I was really lucky timing-wise as the Sports Innovation Challenge had just launched and was looking to help support sports-based entrepreneurs – though at that stage “entrepreneur” wasn’t a word that I’d ever used to describe myself. I also underestimated how difficult it would be to articulate what was in my head, but luckily the entrepreneurial landscape in Scotland, and indeed the UK, is phenomenal. I can say that I wouldn’t be where I am now, (with the final product in my hands!) without the help of various support organisations who believe in start-up ideas like mine.
Today & Tomorrow
Since the company launched, the reviews from parents have been pouring in and I’m so happy to hear how Turtle Pack is helping children learn to swim in a way that’s safe, efficient and fun. Seeing photos of kids from around the world using Turtle Pack on Instagram and Facebook is absolutely mind-blowing! The company has grown in terms of both the team and our export markets but also the scope of what we do. We launched the Turtle Pack Swim Academy as a franchise model; providing swimming lessons centred around using Turtle Pack and really helping kids who may have had bad experiences of swimming in the past. This also allows me to keep doing what I love – teaching kids to swim!
Advice for Entrepreneurs
- Ask questions! You don’t need to know it all – so don’t be afraid to ask!
- Refine your idea – customers need to know what you’re offering, so make sure your idea is simple and well-articulated.
- Build your network! Sometimes one conversation is all it takes to put you in touch with your next opportunity.
- It’s never too early to apply for competitions; even if you don’t win, you’ll learn loads in the process!
Since launching in January 2019, we have sold Turtle Pack swimming aids all over the world. Our customers include parents in Australia & USA, swim schools in Ireland & Japan, and health clubs in Belgium & Germany to name a few. As a business with a social cause at its core our vision is to make Turtle Pack the no.1 learn to swim product all around the globe which will help more children keep active, healthy and happy as they learn an important life skill.
With thanks to Michael Harkins and everyone at Turtle Pack.