It was a bold decision to invest in buying new headquarters in the middle of the pandemic when companies were abandoning their offices altogether, but Mike Waldron was determined to make it work.
After 10 years of renting, the managing partner of York-based product design and development company RDD+, which has a second office in China, was desperate for a proper design studio and workshop space.
“Our Asia office was always nicer even though it was a satellite office,” he says as we chat in the graphite grey coloured boardroom at Chessingham Park in Dunnington. “This building was a former veterinary practice that we looked at the week before the first lockdown. We couldn’t immediately move in so it was actually nice to be able to take our time doing the building work inside it.”
The 12-strong Yorkshire team designs and develops everything from power tools to dental treatments for companies all over the world, from start-ups to big corporate clients like Ford and Head.
About 90 per cent of the work it does is for overseas companies but Waldron is keen to expand in the UK, particularly in the medical sector.
“We get quite a bit of traction with medical companies,” says Waldron.
Working with a spin-out company from Finland’s Aalto University, RDD+ designed and developed a light-activated dental hygiene mouthpiece, which cleans teeth and gums using a special mouthwash.
“They initially wanted to develop a light-activated toothbrush. We couldn’t see how that would work so we worked with them to map out different end user scenarios and also make it into a sustainable business,” says Waldon.
Once it had developed the final product, RDD+ found a medically-certified manufacturer to make it.
“We secured some seed funding from an angel investor,” he adds. “Initially it only launched in dentists in Finland but went crazy so it’s become a home product and is now creeping across Scandinavia.
“It’s great to see a sustainable business grow. It’s a technology that would have never seen the light of day without a company like us. Sure, they could have found someone else but we think we’re uniquely placed to know the medical sector and also the entire supply chain.
Healthcare is a big focus for the business at the moment. RDD+ has created a viral diagnostics device to accelerate the testing processes for viruses for a UK university spin-out and an affordable electrostatic spray for virus control, which was born out of Covid.
“There are an awful lot of concepts that are struggling to reach the testing phase,” says Waldron.
“You look at the raw numbers and they make good sense but how they then make that into both a realistic product and a business that can sustain itself? That’s where we can make a big difference. We can do the innovation side but we also know business really well.”
He adds: “We’ve always worked in the medical sector but it’s definitely come to the fore for two reasons: one is Covid and the other is that we’ve got an ageing population globally.
“From a pure business point of view there are businesses that are either in healthcare or moving into healthcare because that’s the future of commerce for a lot of companies.”
RDD+, which has a global turnover of £5m, has a particular speciality in battery-operated products, from scooters to medical devices and home energy storage.
“That whole market has just exploded in the last couple of years,” he says. “The world has become more and more cordless.”
The company owns the battery platform that Aldi uses in its middle aisle products.
“Aldi phoned us from Germany one day, completely out of the blue, in 2018 and said they wanted to own their own battery platform – for purchasing efficiency and environmental reasons,” says Waldron.
“It means that customers only have to buy one battery to use on everything, like vacuum cleaners, pressure washers and power tools.”
As luck would have it, RDD+ had already developed a simple battery that automatically changes voltage depending on what product you’re using.
“It’s fully patented and protected by us and then we license that. I think Aldi have sold millions of packs in the last three years,” says Waldron.
RDD+’s innovation side makes up about 20 per cent of the business. “Using the money from the consulting side of the business allows us to reinvest in the company and build a really solid bedrock,” says Waldron. “We have created a lot of pieces of IP (intellectual property) across lots of different categories. It generates quite a lot of revenue throughout the year.
“It gives us that safety net and allows the guys in the office to work in areas that otherwise we wouldn’t get the opportunity to work in.” While some product development companies have a very narrow sector focus, RDD+ prides itself on its diversity.
“The downside to specialising in one sector is that you don’t think differently,” says Waldron. “Sometimes you do a bit too much of the same thing. We try to be a bit broader but that doesn’t mean we’re not masters of the things we taken on.”
Looking ahead, one of Waldon’s main objectives is to do more work for UK clients. “We’ve got all this international experience which we can use to help people diversify their businesses,” he says. “We don’t develop products in isolation – we have the business understanding, the supply chain, the certification, all this stuff that a traditional r&d business can’t do.
“When you look at the technology sector across Yorkshire it’s huge but nobody knows we’re here.”
RDD LUMORAL PROJECT FEATURED IN DEVELOP 3D MAGAZINE Share on linkedin Share on email An excellent case study showcasing the innovative Lumoral dental hygiene product