Innovation: Put a holiday burden on wheels: A windsurfer's transport of delight puts him on the crest of a wave. Roger Trapp reports

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The Independent Online
THE HASSLE of transporting equipment is the bane of every windsurfer's life. But when it ruined Michael Parnell-King's family holiday in France, the enthusiast decided to do something about it.

Six years later he has given up practising tax and trust law to manufacture and sell a product that he claims enables windsurfers to caddy their equipment as easily as golfers. After just a couple of months in business, orders are flowing into his company, Pan Atlantia.

Using specially designed marine-grade aluminium and the latest plastic technology, his High Roller is a lightweight extension to a car roof rack that swings through 90 degrees, enabling loading and unloading by a single person in about two minutes. Wheels fitted to the frame make the equipment easy to transport.

Although specifically designed with windsurfers in mind, the product is available in three models: the windsurfer version, the general transport box and the dinghy transporter. All cost less than pounds 400.

Mr Parnell-King believes that there is the potential to sell to about 25 per cent of the sport's practitioners. The general roof box is 'the big unknown', he says. But the dinghy variant has so far attracted an overwhelming response. 'It appears that we are addressing ourselves to a large hole in the market,' he says.

Earlier this year, the High Roller won an innovation award in Mr Parnell-King's home county of Cornwall.

Getting this far has had as much to do with perseverance as inspiration. Mr Parnell-King spent a large part of his holiday mulling over a properly engineered system, and on his return to Britain he set about teaching himself computer-aided design and welding. He soon began producing designs for and building prototypes.

By 1990, he felt he had got as far as he could on his own. A design initiative grant from the Department of Trade and Industry enabled him to sign up a pair of industrial designers, and Michael Mailling and Jonathan Stedman are now executive directors of the company.

Although Mr Parnell-King's bank, National Westminster, had been supportive throughout, there was a need for further finance. With the help of Linc, a networking organisation for new entrepreneurs funded by NatWest and BP, he was put in touch with a Birmingham solicitor and accountant, who recommended becoming a public company.

A share offer launched last July under the Business Expansion Scheme - which enables private individuals to invest in small businesses and receive tax benefits - has so far raised more than pounds 80,000.

On top of this and the pounds 17,500 overdraft facility from NatWest, there have been a pounds 30,000 company regional selective assistance grant from the Department of Trade and Industry and the offer of a pounds 10,000 loan from the Rural Development Commission.

With the funding, administration and product in place, Mr Parnell-King, his fellow directors and his wife, Susie, have now turned their attention to marketing. And although this is hardly the time of year when people are thinking of taking to the water, the response has so far been encouraging.

Even so, he admits to nerves. 'Until we start achieving a reasonable volume we're going to have a lot of knots in the stomach. The problem with a new product is you never really, really know what to expect.'

(Photograph omitted)

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