Former police officer Simon Rothwell recently sold his unique mortuary business, Flexmort, after 11 years of successfully growing the business.
His firm has designed numerous mortuary products with a range of uses, from single body cooling systems to large scale mortuaries and counts various governments, emergency services and hospitals around the world as customers.
Simon credits the University of Warwick Science Park for giving him the help and advice he needed to turn his ground-breaking ideas into reality and allowing it to grow and flourish.
“Following my law degree, I was a police officer for a number of years, but I realised I wanted more control in my career and had designs on starting my own business so I ventured into the corporate world.
“I took an MBA at the University of Warwick a few years after finishing my time with the police, which the company I was working for at the time, Neopost, paid for.
“I went into the course being relatively naïve about several aspects of business, whereas some of the other people taking the course seemed to possess a lot more business acumen than me.
“That said, by the end of it I achieved a Distinction and particularly enjoyed the entrepreneurship module of the course, as I’d always wanted to do something for myself.
“It gave me a good grounding in how to get my ideas off the ground, and introduced me to Professor Andrew Burke, who is now the Dean of Trinity Business School in Dublin and Chair of Business Studies.
“A few years after my MBA, I came up with the first idea for my company, Flexmort.
“It came about in 2010 through a family member who worked in the NHS and told me about the difficulties of fitting larger bodies into hospital mortuaries to cool them down before being transferred to funeral homes.
“The idea was to use a large cooling ‘blanket’ to cool obese bodies in their hospital beds as they were often too big for hospital mortuary racks.
“But I still had questions about how to start and through Prof Burke, I discovered the Ignite programme at the University of Warwick Science Park.
“It helped me come up with an action plan to make the product a reality, as well as advice on where to access funding and how to handle things like software systems and accounts.
“After Ignite’s advice and much research and testing the design was finalised and I was able to sell it to the NHS. Prof Burke even allowed me to store prototype mortuary products in his garage!
“Our work sounds gruesome, but ultimately the cooling of bodies is a very important issue and the NHS was in great need of a solution for what to do with bigger bodies.
“This first success helped us grow the company, increase the number of employees and design more products.
“Our first innovation also led into developing a range of products, including larger mortuaries which can be deployed in disaster zones, and smaller more portable cooling single body cooling systems.
“One of our more moving products is ‘Cuddlecot’, which we designed for parents of stillborn children.
“Previously, parents of stillborn babies had very little time to spend with their child before they are taken down to the hospital’s mortuary, which is obviously very distressing for the parents.
“The Cuddlecot is a device which looks just like a baby’s moses basket, but cools the body down at the same time and means the baby does not have to go to the mortuary immediately. This allows parents to spend precious time with their baby before they say goodbye, helping them grieve properly.
“Again, Cuddlecot was an example of us not being afraid to challenge standard hospital procedures in a very sensitive process. But because we took that step, we have helped hospitals all over the world improve the grieving process for parents of stillborn children and have developed other systems which help hospices care for older children and adults.
“Our products have been a huge success. We have customers in governments, emergency services and hospitals all over the world, and Cuddlecot even featured on numerous TV programmes including EastEnders and American hospital drama New Amsterdam.
“We also received many different awards recognising our innovation, including a Queen’s Award for Innovation, a Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Award for Excellence in Innovation and the Big Idea Award at the University of Warwick.
“It led to me selling the business recently to Noar, Ltd (the holding company of a family office) – and I was helped by another Ignite business, Legal Clarity as well as a fantastic team of chartered accountants that I had used from the start, Magma. The buyers will be able to take Flexmort to new heights while retaining the core team that made it possible.
“Throughout my time as Director of Flexmort, UWSP, whether through Dirk Schafer, Prof Burke or others, were always happy to help through offering advice, introducing me to useful contacts or pointing me to reliable sources of funding.
“Over the years I maintained contact with UWSP and became an investor as part of its Minerva Business Angel scheme, which helps start-ups not dissimilar to mine access Business Angel funding. Even though I’ve sold Flexmort, I am continuing to engage with UWSP as I want to assist others.
“I thrive when I’m thinking of new ideas – especially disruptive technologies. That’s what really gets me up in the morning and has led me to be involved in a number of start-ups. But it counts for nothing if you don’t have good business acumen, which is what the University of Warwick gave me through both my MBA and through Ignite.
“Thanks to the Science Park and especially Dirk Schafer, Flexmort went from an idea I had to a successful business, and I’ll always be grateful for their support.”