When Joanne Bradford saw a woman struggling outside a hotel trying to carry a baby, her luggage, a child car seat and a travel cot, she had a flash of inspiration that would change her life: why not design something to make life easier for the travelling mother?
After a year of perspiration and frustration, Mrs Bradford's blow-up cot, the Holi-Doze, has moved from the drawing board to the shops. Weighing just 9lb- a quarter of the weight of the average travel cot - parents are happily acquiring the vivid blue or pink £50 baby beds.
By thinking of an idea and turning it into a practical product, Mrs Bradford was following in the footsteps of the great inventors - George Stephenson, whose Rocket transformed the railways; Thomas Edison, the American behind the light bulb; Alexander Graham Bell, who came up with the telephone; and John Logie Baird, the Scotsman responsible for television.
Mrs Bradford's work is on show at The British Female Inventors & Innovators Exhibition at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. It promotes the ingenuity of women and seeks to redress the imbalance of the sexes in the discovery of new things. Perhaps because of the traditional absence of women from male-dominated industry, many of the products on show are for the home - for babies, cooking, even flower arranging. Celia Gates, from Colchester, Essex, created pans with ergonomic handles sloping at 45 degrees to make them feel lighter.
A pushchair designed by Ngozi Place, from Wales, folds down telescopically to fit in a rucksack. Anne Helen Lloyd's Instant Florist creates hand-tied bouquets, while the Bodyflik by Wendie Brodie sweeps water off the skin after a bath to save on the use of towels.
There are other, less homely ideas too. Liz Williams has conjured up the Redweb Persona, an alarm that marks an attacker with a harmless, highly visible dye. A forensics box made by Deborah Leary protects evidence at crime scenes, while Dick Moby boxer shorts use Nasa technology to keep men cool - good, its inventors say, for maintaining fertility.
Speaking at the two-day fair, which ends today, Mrs Bradford, who has three children, said she had picked up orders for the Holi-Doze from Brazil, Switzerland, France and Germany.
Armed with a degree in computer-aided product design from Wolverhampton University, the 36-year-old travelled to China to find a manufacturer. She has sold 1,500 cots, which come with an electric pump, and is talking to retail chains about having them stocked.
Mrs Bradford, from Shropshire, believes women have advantages over men when designing products."They are more sensual than men. They put more effort into the style and ergonomics of the product. Men are more interested in the practicalities," she said. One of the show's previous star exhibits is Mandy Haberman's Anywayup Cup, which stops toddlers spilling their juice. It has become a commercial hit.
Deborah Jaffe, the author of Ingenious Women, a history of female inventors, believes they still have a tougher time than their male counterparts. She said: "It is interesting that there are more and more women inventing teams, particularly in the drugs industry and the car industry. But it's still fairly tough for the lone female inventor. People I spoke to for the book and who should know better told me, 'women never invent anything'.
"There's a 50-50 mix at art school but when you go on from that it changes. I wonder if women are being fobbed off and told, 'you go into fashion'. There's a huge amount of untapped talent out there."
OFF THE DRAWING BOARD
JOANNE BRADFORD, The Holi-Doze
A blow-up cot weighing 4kg
CELIA GATES, Handl cookware
Pans with ergonomic handles that slope to make them feel less heavy
ANNE HELEN LLOYD, Instant Florist
Creates hand-tied bouquetsReuse content