Helping local company who have developed and won the market for outdoor survival products

Derek Ryden, managing Director of Blizzard Protection Systems Ltd: image courtesy of Daily PostDerek Ryden, managing Director of Blizzard Protection Systems Ltd: image courtesy of Daily PostAround a decade ago, mountaineers, expeditions to cold climates, or indeed anyone involved in outdoor activities took a polythene bivvy bag or a ‘space blanket’ with them for emergency use. These, at best, provided an extra water and windproof layer.

Now, thanks to the development of Reflexcell™, Bethesda- based Blizzard Protection Systems Ltd, are market leaders in the field of out-door thermal survival products. The award-winning company exports around the globe. Among their customers are the US, Australian, Finnish, German, Dutch and Norwegian armed forces, the Norwegian Police RAF Mountain Rescue, Swiss Air Ambulance and disaster relief agencies as well as the outdoor recreation market.

The firm has grown from a ‘cottage industry’ to become the world leader in its field. The company’s headquarters at Bethesda now employs 23 people and their turnover this year is £2.5 million.

Blizzard’s Managing Director, entrepreneur and inventor Derek Ryden knew that he had a good product. However, working with experts at Bangor University’s School of Sport, Health & Exercise Sciences has enabled him to appreciate exactly how efficient his products really are, and has armed Blizzard with information to help them market their products more effectively.

Working with Dr Sam Oliver and PhD student Jenny Brierley of the University’s Extremes Research Group, Derek has been able to commission tailored research that measures exactly how good the products are. The University has been researching how effective the innovative material is in directing escaping body heat back into the body, preventing or delaying the onset of hypothermia in extreme conditions.

“Our products have to work in unpredictable conditions. Anecdotally, we’ve had reports of how well they’ve worked in extreme conditions, but these don’t give us accurate data. Working closely with the University scientists we’ve been able to design experiments to provide scientific data to validate the effectiveness of our products,” explains Derek Ryden.

“The University are able to design things far more scientifically- and the results, once published, are available for others to see, and compare their own products against,” he added.

Jenny Brierley presenting a poster describing her research at a conferenceJenny Brierley presenting a poster describing her research at a conferencePostgraduate student Jenny Brierley has been appointed to a special PhD project, where she conducts research designed by the company and the University. A major piece of recently completed research has shown that Blizzards Protection Survival products have advantages over traditional polythene bags.  

“As far as we’re concerned, this research was long overdue. People had been asking us for it- and it has really helped with our marketing and sales. Without access to the University expertise through the KESS programme, we wouldn’t have been able to afford the full costs of such research,” said Derek Ryden.

The research with Bangor University has been conducted under the KESS (Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships) programme. The aim of KESS is to provide the support that knowledge based industries need to enable them to grow.  The programme provides access to expertise within universities while also providing research training and post graduate education in a specialist area to a student, who then has valuable skills and knowledge.

Jenny Brierley graduated with a degree in Sports Sciences from Bangor University in 2009, and was accepted as a KESS PhD Scholar.

 “The Scholarship has given me some fantastic opportunities, not only to conduct research, but also I’ve had one to one contact with the Managing Director of a worldwide company and the experience has given me opportunities such as speaking about the research at international conferences. The research itself is also providing further research opportunities for undergraduate and MSc students at Bangor.

 “I can’t really say what I’d like to do next, and who knows what opportunities may arise. There are so  many fields that I’m interested in, but I’d certainly like to do more work testing products and how well they relate to human performance

Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships (KESS) is a major European Convergence programme led by Bangor University on behalf of the HE sector in Wales. Benefiting from European Social Funds (ESF), KESS will support collaborative research projects (Research Masters and PhD) with external partners based in the Convergence area of Wales (West Wales and the Valleys).  KESS will run from 2009 until 2014 and will provide 400+ PhD and Masters places.

Both the Research Masters and PhD elements are integrated with a high-level skills training programme, leading to a Postgraduate Skills Development Award

Publication date: 9 November 2011