YIA internship: Making things gel

This year saw the biggest internship programme yet to come out of the Young Innovator Awards. Four internships were hosted across the Bay of Plenty with some of the Bay’s leading innovative businesses: BECA, Bluelab, Cucumber Digital, Woods Creative and ourselves.


We were lucky enough to take brother and sister team Sam and Holly Sheaf on a crash course in product development — one week of full steam research and development to take their YIA entry idea ‘Gel-Shel’ to the next level.

If you’ve ever done any endurance racing or training, you would be well aware of energy gels. These small, on-the-go supplement packets are used to give athletes an energy boost while racing. Out in the Rotorua Redwoods after a cycle race one weekend, Sam and Holly saw gel wrappers littered across the park — not a great look for one of New Zealand’s premier mountain biking courses. This was the spark that inspired them to create their YIA entry: The Gel-Shel. A small fabric bag straps onto a bike that stores new and used gel packets, with the goal to “keep New Zealand’s bike trails beautiful”.

Sam and Holly had already whipped up a prototype for their awards entry, but Day 1 of the internship meant going right back to the beginning and further defining the problem. They looked at questions such as who are we designing for, who are the key players, brands and events, and took a quick look into competitor products.  This research uncovered an interesting opportunity for the Gel-Shel. Rather than offer a product sold in retail stores, partnering with racing events could hold a real opportunity to get the Gel-Shel into people’s hands more quickly. Creating a plain, cheap, and simple product would mean race organisers could apply their own brand to the Gel-Shel and include it in the race pack that each competitor receives.

Talking to users as well as retailers was the next step, with Day 2 involving trips to EvoCycles and calls to some local endurance athletes. The trip to EvoCycles gave Holly and Sam a good understanding of different bikes and how a retail store operates. The team took measurements from a number of bikes and then began to assess the best place to put the Gel-Shel on a bike. Holly and Sam were also able to conduct interviews with multi-sport athletes, getting insight into how they use energy gels in different racing and training situations.

Day 3 saw a big brainstorm with the Locus team, distilling some of the key insights from the research to date:

  • Littering in events can mean disqualification. This proved that littering is a recognised problem and the Gel-Shel could help athletes avoid disqualification.
  • Aerodynamics vs storage. We need to hit the right balance between a product that can store enough gels while providing an aerodynamic solution.
  • Cost is king. If the Gel-Shel is going to be provided by events in race packs with custom branding, a simple, low-cost product is essential.
  • Focus on the gels. Many athletes take other gear on the bike and have other storage solutions. Focus on solving the gel issue rather than providing a more multipurpose bag.
  • Shirt pockets aren’t easy. Athletes currently use their shirt pockets to store gels but this can be difficult when racing and can cause gel residue from an empty packet to get all over their clothing.
  • The top tube provides the best real estate for the Gel-Shel. Athletes put all kinds of equipment on their bike, so the top tube best location for the Gel-Shel to avoid clashes with other gear. The vast range of bikes means the design needs to be able to adapt to a range of bikes.

The last two days saw cardboard and paper flying around the studio, testing different configurations and designs on bikes up and down the driveway, all while analysing what worked and what didn’t. After a final design was decided upon, Holly and Sam sat down with our resident Solidworks expert Mike to put together a 3D model of their design. The result was an improved fabric pouch from their existing prototype, that allowed snug fitment of gels that allows riders to easily remove a gel packet for consumption and store the rubbish on the other side.

The YIA internships are a great example of how business and education in the Bay of Plenty can partner to create awesome results for tomorrow’s innovators. Sam himself learned a lot of new skills he didn’t anticipate. He said, “I learnt that creating a product is a lot more than just paying people to make and sell it for you, it requires a lot of time, effort and dedication. I went into this internship not very sure on what was to come, a bit nervous but mostly excited. I left a completely different person will brand new skills and ideas (Holly has already decided what she’s going to enter for 2017!). Before this experience, I had never considered innovation as a career choice, but now it is something that has made its way onto the list. This internship has been awesome, and is one thing I will never forget.”

So, what’s next for the Gel-Shel? It sounds like the Sheaffs are already on the path to making this thing a reality, after their week at Woods Creative creating an awesome brand and story to support the product. Hearing them speak at the Internships Presentation Evening, hosted by Priority One, we were inspired by their passion for their potential new product. Holly and Sam were both engaged and passionate about their project, we all think they have a bright future ahead of them! Sam said the prototype developed during the internship “will be used for additional market research and trials in an upcoming mountain bike event in Rotorua.” Watch this space and the bike trails for the next step.

Want to read more on creativity, design, product development and innovation? Go to our Six Lenses Blog.



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