Young Innovators Success Stories: Andrew Reece, WhiteBox Systems, West Midlands
For Andrew Reece, software specialist and coding innovator, the ambition of growing WhiteBox Systems has expanded in tandem with his self-confidence.
He secured the Young Innovators Award 2020/21 from Innovate UK and The Prince’s Trust through his innovative idea to make understanding new code easier for software developers by enabling real-time representation of how the code behaves.
Since joining the Young Innovators programme, he has released a stable beta version of the software and attracted a top-10 UK university to use WhiteBox within their teaching courses.
Andrew says the grant from Innovate UK provided three levels of support. Firstly, it allowed him to invest in key pieces of equipment needed to progress.
In addition, it enabled him to bring on external development support. Finally, the living grant that accompanied the award provided the space and opportunity to focus on his ambitions.
When he joined the programme, WhiteBox was a registered company with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), had some early adopters testing alpha releases, and community engagement on gaming chat platform Discord.
He has since hit beta release – a stable public version with both Windows and Linux support.
Andrew says, due to his recent success, his initial strategy of focusing on game development before moving into safety-critical industries has shifted to now targeting the education sector.
“Having a university use it in their teaching courses was significant for multiple reasons. It was more evidence of the tool’s utility and that its usefulness would be recognised by large institutions.”
“It was also confirmation that pivoting our focus toward the education sector was worthwhile, which also led to the addition of Linux support.”
Andrew adds, “It was simultaneously a weight off my shoulders and a boost in my confidence that I could present WhiteBox in a way that sufficiently conveyed its benefits.”
Innovation Champion guidance
This pivot in focus came through regular discussion, review, and brainstorming with Andrew’s business mentor, who has worked with him as part of the wider business support package organised for award holders by Innovate UK KTN.
The decision happened in conjunction with the addition of new software features, which have both provided better feedback for existing users and expanded the potential user base.
Andrew says, “The move is particularly worthwhile at this point as the requirements of students match the existing strengths of WhiteBox before future expert-only features are added.”
He hopes the move will also help long-term adoption of the software.
“Individual developers have a significant say in what tools they get to use in software companies, so if students become accustomed to WhiteBox when they are learning to program, they are likely to introduce it to the companies they graduate into,” he says.
Within the next year, Andrew plans to release version 1.0 of WhiteBox, fleshing out the feature-set and language support.
Alongside this, the business is now in a position to be more public with its sales and marketing strategies.
He says, “We expect to grow a lot faster through selling to more universities and then bring attention back towards the game development and safety-critical sectors. This will involve expanding the team further and will get us to a point where investment would be worthwhile.”
The young innovator is now more confident in both his own ability to present WhiteBox to others and in the software itself.
“I have a clear plan for the start of the upcoming growth phase and now that I’m at least familiar with the known-unknowns, I am more focused on the components that need attention. I have the project’s priorities better-ordered,” he says.
Crucial to his growth trajectory has been the constant support from his Innovate UK EDGE Innovation Champion.
“Having an Innovation Champion to bounce ideas off was incredibly valuable, particularly as a solo founder. The frequent advice from a knowledgeable outside source gave me continual opportunities to course-correct,” he says.
For Andrew, entrepreneurship often means stepping into the unknown – whether that be what action needs to be taken or how to evaluate successes.
The Young Innovators Award has, however, given him both the network of support needed and a huge confidence boost. “Through repeated efforts and reflection with my Innovation Champion I have become a lot better at getting started and working through activities that are full of uncertainty.”