Imagine you live in a dusty suburb in South Africa. You are passionate about sport, and cricket in particular, but cricketing facilities are virtually non-existent in your community. Joining a cricket club is a pipe dream, and the only surface you have to play on is a sandy field. For large numbers of South Africans, this has been the reality for many years, and something that entrepreneur Richard Beghin decided he wanted to change.
Richard grew up in South Africa and admits he had a privileged upbringing. With an English mother and South African father he didn't have to fight to go to school or get a job. But it was not until he was working in the UK that he realised how fortunate he had been and decided he wanted to put something back into the community. Armed with 32 different business ideas, he evaluated each in turn before deciding that none was quite right for what he wanted to achieve. Then he saw a TV programme about developing cricket playing skills and started to formulate the plans he believed would help him realise his vision of transforming the lives of people across the globe.
Richard identified cricket as the catalyst for creating opportunities, breaking down barriers, fostering the will to win and developing teamwork - in short for developing the conditions, attitudes and skills that people need to succeed not just in sport but in their wider lives. He knew from experience that in many parts of the world, opportunities for playing cricket on decent pitches were limited. So, he researched the market and developed a portable cricket pitch made from plastic that would allow many more people to enjoy the sport. He founded the company Flicx, and from this base in north Oxfordshire has developed an export strategy, with help from UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) in the South East.
Richard signed up to UKTI's Passport to Export scheme, working with International Trade Adviser (ITA) Peter Warren. "Passport to Export is a flexible, tailored programme, designed to help new and inexperienced exporters understand and target international customers," explained Peter. "The package includes a two-day Export Strategy Workshop, additional subsidised training, a full company diagnostic, and development of an export action plan, together with advice and guidance from one of UKTI's team of experienced ITAs."
This was just the impetus that Flicx needed, and together, Peter and Richard identified the markets that the business should target initially.
South Africa and Australia were obvious targets, and Richard now has partners developing the business in each of these cricket-loving countries, supplying goods to schools and cricket clubs.
"We are also working with the European Cricket Council," said Richard, "and the sport is developing in Denmark, Holland, France, Spain and Portugal, thanks to ex-pats spreading the word. We have also exported to Sweden, and now even China and a number of cricket clubs in New York have placed orders."
The portable pitch is not the only Flicx product. It is now exporting a portable lightweight bowling machine that took four years to develop, as well as products like cricket nets, ground equipment, scoreboards, balls and stumps. "The market for cricket equipment is huge," said Richard, "and we want to ensure that we can fulfil our current export orders before tackling new markets. India is another huge, cricket-mad market that UKTI will help us to tackle when the time is right, but at the moment we are concentrating on the European countries where cricket is still developing, as well as some of those where the game is more established."
Richard's entrepreneurial skills have already had an impact on thousands of youngsters. Back in South Africa, a tournament has been developed for under-13s from disadvantaged backgrounds, played on Friday nights under floodlights using the portable pitch. "That first season a few years ago, the final was held on Newlands Ground in Cape Town, one of the most beautiful cricket grounds in the world, overlooking Table Mountain and Devil's Peak. The players' names were up in lights around the stadium. It was a turning point in cricket development, giving youngsters a reason to believe in themselves and their abilities. One of those young players has now gone on to play for the South African under-19s squad. It was also confirmation that providing such opportunities for those who had previously not had the chances I'd had was the way forward, making me even more determined to build a company that would make a difference to people's lives."
With markets in both the northern and southern hemispheres, Richard can now rely on orders all year round, as cricket is being played somewhere where the sun shines. "We are increasing our staffing by 25 per cent at Easter to keep up with demand for the products," he said.
Now, as well as disadvantaged youngsters, people from different backgrounds in countries all over the world are being bowled over by Richard's invention - and his success is a spur to other companies to develop export markets and bolster their businesses in these difficult economic times.