Samantha Fountain hit upon the amazing idea to create the revolutionary Shewee while studying towards her BA Honors Product Design course at De Montfort University Leicester in the United Kingdom.
Taken aback by the simplicity and functionality of the design Samantha received enormous encouragement from her university tutors to push the product further than the plywood prototype which was central to her dissertation.
Samantha was awarded the James Dyson Product Design Award, July 1999 for the design of Shewee.
With this encouragement behind her and an array of interested parties helping her along the way, Samantha embarked on a long journey to develop, patent and fund her idea. Many years later Samantha is now ready to change women's lives by launching her product.
Samantha's determination and commitment, not only to realise her dream but provide welcome relief to all women, has resulted in her product being available to the public. Samantha hopes that all the hard work has paid off, and that women will find their lives transformed by her little device, Shewee.
Shewee - Samantha Fountain's Story:
At just seven inches long and weighing less than a mobile phone, the Shewee is small enough to fit into even the most crammed of handbags. This portable plastic device could well be the solution to that rare occasion when women wish they could be men, as the Shewee enables them to urinate standing up, without the hassle of having to remove their clothing in the process.
The idea first came to Sam when she was writing her dissertation at university on how to improve the facilities in public toilets, something that she believes is a concern for most women.
“As a child, I was taught not to sit on public toilet seats, for fear of catching germs. At first I had the idea of designing retractable toilets that could be washed after every use, but as this was a bit impractical, I decided on a device that women could use to avoid contact with the toilet altogether.”
Of course the Shewee has far more wide-ranging uses than simply enabling women to use public toilets hygienically. Sam sells to hospitals, for use in giving urine samples, and for patients unable to walk to the toilet but able to stand, avoiding the messy use of a bedpan.
The Army and the outdoor woman is another market, as Sam explains.
"It struck me how much easier it was for a guy to go to the toilet in a place where there were no facilities or nowhere to squat behind’, explains Sam, ‘so I came up with a way of effectively urinating like a man. Men could just stroll up and be on their way in a few seconds, while women were having to take off backpacks and clothing and then attempt to find somewhere to squat, all the time worrying about touching things for fear of germs, keeping their dignity and keeping warm. Shewee does away with all of this fuss - there really is no end to situations where Shewee is handy".
The idea won Sam The Dyson Product Design Award in 1999, which included a six-month placement with James Dyson himself, helping to design a robotic vacuum cleaner. This opportunity gave her the chance to work with plastic manufacturers, and increased her determination to make the design a success.
“After I won the award, I had several calls from people encouraging me and offering their assistance. One of my friends even met a backpacker in Australia who had heard of the Shewee, and this really spurred me on to make the idea a reality.”
Among the people offering help was Keith Jessop, a close family friend and experienced businessman. He has mentored Sam over the last six years, giving her invaluable advise and mentoring to help make her dream a reality.
The obstacles along the way ranged from developing a business plan to make the ‘idea and prototype’ into a realistic business, sourcing financing for this whilst at the same time talking to manufactures and marketing companies. To source the financing Sam decided to make Shewee a Limited company and sell shares. The value of the company was determined by the business plan. Sam kept 51% of the shares and sold the other 49% to individuals; some of whom are family friends and others friends of friends or previous work colleagues. The selling of these shares was done in 3 tranches, the shares rising in value for new buyers in each tranche. It was done like this so that original investors purchased more shares at each stage as they could see the Shewee Ltd growing successfully.
Sam took the plunge in January 2005, and left her job to concentrate solely on the product. She now has an office and starts work at 8am sharp everyday.
She says that having her own business has undoubtedly been exciting, but the challenge has brought with it new responsibilities.
“It’s not like a normal day job, where I could just resign if I didn’t enjoy it anymore. I have a dozen or so investors depending on me to make the idea profitable, and that is quite daunting.”
Sam’s average day ranges from keeping up to date with the accounts, marketing and sales.
Rachel Collins, one of the lucky volunteers to try the revolutionary idea, was impressed at how easy it was to adapt to urinating standing up.
“I always thought it would seem very strange, but it is surprising how quickly you get used to it. I used it for the first time when I was on a horse riding weekend, and now I always have it in my handbag when I think I might need it.”
Sam is confident that the Shewee will prove popular, but also appreciates that the skills she has learnt will stand her in good stead whatever the future holds.
“I now know what is involved in running my own business, and am confident I could turn my hand to something else if need be. People have approached me with other ideas that could be looked at in the future, but for now I want to concentrate on my Shewee.”
It seems that women are now taking the case for equality one step further. With her appearance on BBC2’s ‘Dragon’s Den’, recently winning the Silver Award for the British Female Inventor and Innovator awards and sales to the hospitals and the active woman growing monthly, you can be sure we will be hearing a lot more of Sam and her Shewee in the near future.