Jon Silvester, Creator and Director of Silvflame
Silvflame Ltd is a wildfire protection company based in Malvern in the UK. We are in the process of working on wildfire protection systems for emergency vehicles, vital infrastructures, agricultural land, villages, towns, and cities, also we have a Wildfire containment system and a wildfire escape system to help people evacuate safely.
Silvflame Ltd has been operating for the last 3 years with myself and my wife Carrie Silvester who is also a company director. We have never run a business before but I had some ideas and went with it. We started in 2016, over the last 4 years we have been very lucky to have worked with some very talented people. Most of them are still working with on our various projects. I am very pleased to be working with Andy Elliott from Wildfire-TaC who is a wildfire specialist and has 35 yrs firefighting and research experience in the field. We are also very lucky to be working with Professor Claire Belcher Director of Wildfire Lab at the University of Exeter. She has been helping us do testing at the laboratory. The University of Exeter Wildfire lab is a specifically designed experimental laboratory where they can test the flammability of natural fuels. We have worked with Prof Domingos Viegas who is the director from the Forest Fire Research Center (CEIF) of ADAI, in Coimbra Portugal. He created the Forest Fire Research Laboratory (LEIF) which is one of the largest laboratories in the world dedicated to fire behaviour research.
We are currently developing a number of ideas and projects including:
- A rapid deployment emergency vehicle protection system. This will protect the whole vehicle and all equipment from being destroyed and most importantly will protect firefighters. This system is a last resort option to save lives.
- A wildfire containment system. This easy and quick deployment system will help contain wildfires, stopping the spread, so efforts can be focussed on suppression, therefore saving land, money and most importantly lives.
- We are also working on a system to protect vital infrastructure. This is a semi-permanent system protecting critical infrastructure from destruction. It can also be used as an evacuation aid to get people out safely from the affected area.
I want to start by saying we have had brilliant support from the scientific and wildfire community and a member of the UK House of Lords. It has been great to have this support from them as it provides reassurance that our products are viable and desperately needed. However, it has not all been easy or smooth running.
I’m not the cleverest man in the world, I’m dyslexic and everything I’ve learned so far about wildfires and the materials we are using I have learnt by myself which has been very interesting. My wife and I struggle with the application side of things and my wife and children also have disabilities so I’m also their full-time carer. On top of all this, I am epileptic.
We had various offers of help to apply for grants and funding which we were extremely grateful for. Unfortunately, this help never actually materialised. We have had two separate companies promise us investments. They thought my ideas were really good and a sound business opportunity but then these companies have withdrawn their support, slowing the projects down and even worse have made me look bad and appear unprofessional.
One of these companies we worked together with for quite a long period of time. We were using their materials because they worked well with our designs and they even financed my trips and other expenses, they really got behind the project. But after a successful joint trip to Portugal to see Professor Viegas, they suddenly stopped all contact with us. We were completely confused and couldn’t understand the sudden lack of contact after all seemed to be going so well. I continued to attempt contact with them for around 2 months but never had any replies. It was all very strange and to this day I still don’t know what happened.
I met another company at the Firex International event in London (2019). Once again they appeared very excited and keen to be involved in the projects and soon made offers of help with financing trips etc. and also offered to have their employees make a working prototype and draw up the CAD drawings we desperately needed for the testing facilities we were using at that time.
Again, very suddenly they backed off and told us the project was just too big for them to help us anymore, which was sad and frustrating but we appreciated all of their help up till that point. It couldn’t be helped so we parted on good terms. Around a month later we had contact from them again saying it was just too good an opportunity to miss out on, so they had cleared some time up to work with us if we still wanted to. Of course, we jumped at the chance and were excited to make some much-needed progress. I had people waiting for the CAD drawings so this was a priority right away. Contact remained sporadic and we hoped we weren’t being messed around. We were assured timescales were being kept to, and I just had to wait to be told when they were ready.
As it seemed everything was back on track and going well, I started planning an international event to showcase the finalised products in early 2020. I arranged a lot of other companies and specialised speakers to attend and take part either by showcasing their own products, by holding live demonstrations or giving talks on their specialised wildfire subjects.
It was looking to be a huge event. We were also going to make a documentary on our projects and all aspects of wildfires and had found a wonderful production team eager to work with us. After around 6 months of meetings and promises, we had an all-important investment meeting planned for January 2020 but before this could happen a massive bombshell was dropped.
We were told they wouldn’t be able to work with us as they were just too busy with their current business – Happy Christmas to me! All contact completely stopped after they emailed us this bombshell. Everything had to be cancelled as we couldn’t fund either the event or the documentary ourselves. The other interested party withdrew interest as we couldn’t produce the prototype and CAD drawings we promised.
It was a devastating blow as we were back to square one applying for grants ourselves to finance the projects. Progress is now slow but at least it’s steady as we aren’t relying on other people. We could’ve given up at this point but we believe our products are such a game-changer and literally lifesaving that we can’t just stop now. All the ideas and designs are protected but we do sometimes worry that someone will find a way to rip us off, we feel vulnerable.
I do wonder if the problems we’ve encountered so far are common for new/starter businesses to go through or is it just our bad luck?
Because of these problems, I have been made to appear unreliable and unprofessional to some. So being messed around has affected certain relationships I had which is something I wish I could change. One comment made by one of those people was that I am a great person in general but that I am unreliable in business. I thought this a little unfair as I always delivered what I promised, but others let me down. I had to rely on someone else to do the things I couldn’t myself as I don’t have the right knowledge and skills.
So, as it stands right now, we are slowly but surely making progress ourselves along with the support of Andy Elliott and Prof Claire Belcher. We still plan to do all that we planned before but without having to rely on other people as much. Hopefully, this will mean we will actually get where we want to be as we won’t be let down again. We will require manufacturing help, but we are determined to succeed because we must. Too much will be lost if we don’t.
Please feel free to contact me if you’d like to know more about our projects, we would love to hear from you.
For more information, go to www.silvflameltd.co.uk