Bags could carry pair of Thamesmead brothers to fortune

PUBLISHED: 10:37 14 June 2013 | UPDATED: 10:37 14 June 2013

L-r: Joshua Okungbaiye, Sir Richard Branson and John Okungbaiye. Pic by Tom Oldham

L-r: Joshua Okungbaiye, Sir Richard Branson and John Okungbaiye. Pic by Tom Oldham

© Tom Oldham 2013

When Thamesmead brothers Joshua and John Okungbaiye went to New York last autumn they never imagined it would lead to a business idea which attracted funding and development from Sir Richard Branson.

High Spirit founders l-r: Joshua (red top) and John OkungbaiyeHigh Spirit founders l-r: Joshua (red top) and John Okungbaiye

During their trip the pair heard repeated tales of pick-pocketing which were ruining the experiences of dozens of travellers.

A light-bulb moment inspired them to create backpacks with zips in covert places which would be difficult for thieves to reach.

Surprised that no such product existed, they got a patent as quickly as possible. Now their business, High Spirits, has received £5,000 funding from Sir Richard and Virgin after winning a nationwide competition for start-ups.

The pair were one of four businesses to pitch to the Virgin boss last month.

High Spirit founders l-r: John and Joshua OkungbaiyeHigh Spirit founders l-r: John and Joshua Okungbaiye

Joshua said: “It was nerve-wracking and surreal pitching to such a legend.

“Sir Richard said he loved the pitch and this has been a great experience for both of us to carry forward. To win the competition is a dream come true.”

The bags have been designed by fashion student John, 23, who said he always wanted to come up with an innovative idea after being inspired by his and Joshua’s late father.

“My dad always had big dreams but never made them a reality,” he says. “When he passed I became even more determined to come up with an original design.

“The business will do well because it’s something people need. They look good and they solve a real problem, which is all you really need from a bag.”

After establishing the company at their home in Teasal Court, they decided to enter the Virgin Media Pioneers competition which they saw advertised on Twitter.

The brothers hope to put the £5,000 towards developing their website and making interactive viral videos while making the most of expert support they will receive from Sir Richard and his colleagues.

The brothers also plan to have a pop-up shop in Shoreditch but only two or three times a year to give customers a feeling of “exclusivity”.

Neither had much experience in things like getting a patent but both were pleasantly surprised by the process.

Joshua, 25, said: “Getting something patented is not as hard as I thought it would be, it’s just quite time-consuming.

“We were both shocked that there wasn’t something like this out there because it’s such a simple idea.

“This is a really exciting time in our lives and we’re putting everything into making the business a success.”

Joshua took some tips from television show Dragons’ Den in preparation for going before the Virgin executives.

“Top businessmen or women will see right through you if you’re not [prepared] and you need to emphasise your unique selling point and give them numbers.

“If they’re investing they want to know what return they’ll see.”

The pair have also received the backing of their local MP, Erith and Thamesmead’s Teresa Pearce, who thinks their ambition and determination should be used as an example for other people in the area.

She said: “I am very impressed with the innovative and useful product John and Joshua have developed and their success in this competition so far and I would urge people to check out their product.”


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