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22 July, 2014 - 09:43 By Tony Quested

Bird’s eye £130k crowdfunding for new synthetic shuttlecock

Synthetic shuttlecock funding bid on SyndicateRoom

A UK company that claims to have developed a new synthetic shuttlecock is hoping to take flight by raising £130k on Cambridge crowdfunding site, SyndicateRoom.

Suitably named St Albans startup Bird Design Limited has already raised half the money to underpin the commercial roll-out.

Bird’s innovation is also good for birds in general – ducks and geese are often plucked alive to collect their feathers for badminton shuttles.

China is the world’s biggest manufacturer of traditionally made shuttlecocks so the new synthetic ‘bird’ could revolutionise that market long term. Bird has patented the invention in both China and the UK.

Designing a better synthetic shuttle has been the holy grail of the badminton industry for over 60 years. With more than 2,000 local clubs and roughly five million players in the UK alone – and over two hundred million players churning through shuttlecocks at a rate of between one and 20 per match worldwide – the market potential for Bird’s products is huge.

Badminton is the world’s fastest racket sport – shuttles can travel at over 200mph – and the players and regulatory body are ruthless when it comes to product performance and quality. 

While this is good for the sport in keeping the action intense, it’s bad for wallets, as a typical tube of 12 approved shuttles can cost anywhere from £10-£30. It’s also bad for the birds, of course 

While standard nylon shuttlecocks do not live up to the performance expectations of your better player, Bird’s patented synthetic shuttlecock is serving up something sweet.

Not only has it been shown to meet performance expectations; it is also capable of enduring several matches played at the highest level without signs of performance degradation.

Bird may have launched just a short while ago but has already secured a number of key clients, including a large distribution partner (Goode Sports) which places orders for 10,000 units at a time. Demand has increased to the extent that Bird is leveraging SyndicateRoom to buy equipment that will enable high volume production to meet the demand, decrease production costs, and improve margins.

Bird is now seeking £130,000, with nearly half of this already committed by business angels, and the other half to come from SyndicateRoom members investing a minimum of £1000.

Gonçalo de Vasconcelos, founder and CEO, SyndicateRoom, commented: “Bird’s innovative new product has the potential to be a real game-changer – literally! Not only have the team cracked a problem the badminton industry has been grappling with for over 60 years – designing a synthetic shuttlecock that performs to the high standards of costly traditional shuttles – but their shuttle is also an ethical solution, which doesn’t compromise animal welfare.

“We’re very excited to bring this new investment opportunity to SyndicateRoom members. SyndicateRoom gives private investors the chance to invest alongside experienced business angels, who have reviewed this deal and are putting over £60K of their own money on the line.”

Bird Design founder Gordon Willis told Business Weekly: “In the short to medium term our shuttlecocks will be made in the UK but longer term manufacturing may well shift to China. 

“Some of the manufacturing processes are new and require close attention to scale up to what we expect to be high volume. Only once we have a fully developed and stable quality-managed system will we consider manufacturing elsewhere.

“It will not be a labour intensive process and the margins will be very good so there will be no pressure to look for economies. If we make Bird2 and subsequent products in China it will be done to cope with the logistics of supplying such a huge market.”

Not only is the UK invention creature friendly but also the main materials used in manufacture of the Bird ‘birds’ are sustainable vegetable derived plastics and natural materials, not petrochemical based as most plastics are.

The Chinese use feathers almost exclusively for their shuttlecock manufacture. Apparently they have a relationship between geese farms and shuttlecock factories that keeps the manufacturing costs at a sustainable level. But Willis says this model has been under pressure for some years.

“Goose meat is a traditional staple diet but is seen now as an agrarian food and the growing middle classes buy much less of it that they used to.

“Also different  bird flu viruses have temporarily stopped feather supply and made it more expensive due to extra controls and legislation. government assistance to migrating workers has been reduced, which has made it more difficult for countryside factories to get labour – and generally there is a migration towards the cities. All these factors have squeezed margins to a minimum. 

“China will be a huge potential market for us when we are ready to cope with it. I cannot see any resistance to getting Bird2 accepted at lower levels of play , which gives it a chance to become the preferred standard. 

“If bird flu returns more seriously than before then Bird2 becomes the best alternative.” 

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