You are currently reading Issue 66: Women in Transport and Automotive, October 2016

Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

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Innovative women in transport and logistics: Why it’s what’s on the inside that counts – Pauline Dawes, Managing Director of SOMI Trailers

Picture of a SOMI trailer

Pauline Dawes is Managing Director of SOMI Trailers. The SOMI Trailer utilises patented technologies and advanced engineering to create 31% additional load capacity, without adding to the overall dimensions of a standard trailer. The advanced load management mechanism can position extra cargo an additional eight pallets into previously unused space within the trailer. SOMI’s innovative design could also lower carbon emissions by 25% per year by eliminating one in every four road journeys, potentially saving millions of pounds.

Pauline Dawes - SOMI Trailers
Pauline Dawes

“…You are the best person in the whole world to talk or write about your project. If you are applying for finance, be passionate…”

Finding university in my thirties

Having left school at 15 it took until my thirties to realise the need for a university education. After doing A-levels part time I gained a place at Cambridge University, and all whilst still working as a director in a logistics group with 450 employees.

As I wanted to help women set up their own businesses, an MBA at Manchester was the next step. Although intensive I still worked and whilst I was stuck in traffic on the M6 one day, I asked: “Why are we not using the space underneath a trailer?” Since that moment the trailer has become my third cherished child and in ten years has grown to become a full commercial reality.

Having the idea for SOMI

At four metres high, SOMI has the potential to take one in four trucks off the roads globally. For example, in the UK you could remove a line of trucks parked nose to tail around the M25 and still deliver all the goods. It uses normal trucks, loading bays and loading equipment. Here’s a video to show you:

As a world first we have 22 granted patents with 20 pending. We developed air bags that lift 8000kg using 2psi (pounds per square inch). The trailer is built from scratch, has an on-board computer to control it and we wrote our own software to data mine, enabling efficient maintenance.

Choosing the right name

My teenagers were asking what the trailer was all about and what would I call it? After a few lame suggestions and a reply of: “BORING!” their grandfather said, “If it is the same on the outside and more inside, why not call it SOMI?” I checked it had no bad translations and registered the name the next day. The tagline Saves Oil Manpower and Infrastructure is also used, but any better suggestions are welcome!

Being a finalist for an Innovate UK Women in Innovation funding award

SOMI TrailersThe Innovate UK Women in Innovation funding award is a great way of enabling women to complete a project, or in my case take it to market. Finalists receive a support package of advice. There are also awards of £50,000 per sector.

Carol Holden, a brilliant engineer who knew about SOMI, said I had to apply. I was, as most women are, apprehensive as so many times the male dominated world has turned me down or worse not even given the chance to meet or talk. David, my other half, said: “You can only gain from the experience,” and he was right.

I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. The process is open, transparent and the Innovate UK staff are extremely professional and helpful. All the finalists had amazing projects.

Advice for other female entrepreneurs who are considering putting themselves forward for initiatives like Innovate UK Women in Innovation

Do not procrastinate. You are the best person in the whole world to talk or write about your project. If you are applying for finance, be passionate. Always be prepared.  Planning and practicing reduces the fear. You manage a house and possibly children and a partner already, so this is just another skill you will eventually get right and be able to put into practice this time next year without stress.

Good luck to all of you, have some fun with your project – rewards arrive in many ways!

Being a woman working in a male dominated field

The challenges I face are usually in the form of not being heard or having work undervalued. Too often there are 100 men and me so I have to be careful to have clear facts and figures to include in conversation.

The natural female stance of being collaborative has helped by coordinating a group of people to support the project in each area where I was being challenged. For example, in SOMI we use supplier experts to back us up at meetings with clients. In finance a different team including Government advisors are helpful. You have to pick the right team with the right skill set at the right moment.

Potential applications at home and overseas

SOMI has huge export potential (there are 1.6 million trucks in EU and 3 million in the USA) and I intend to licence to the three largest trailer builders in major markets in North America and Asia. In the EU we expect to outsource the body building to each country and supply kits of the mechanism from the UK. This way we can grow rapidly with lower risk.

Coming up next for me and SOMI Trailers

What have I got coming up? Oh just selling to the whole world… Seriously, a period of rapid growth, getting finance in place, internationalisation of the design, a short urban version to build and somewhere, and then a bit of time off to enjoy myself with my family!


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