Inventing new ways to avoid retirement

Craig and Leslie Hanson, Smart Sinks founders, moved from the city to Gympie to retire, but instead started a new business developing one of Craig’s inventions.

Leslie and Craig Hanson

As cabinet makers and builders, Craig and Leslie Hanson heard the same story over and over again.

The current solution for filtering plaster out of water at dental surgeries wasn’t working. 
 
Dentists plaster traps, which are mounted under the sink, require a registered plumber to come in and clean them out. Often Leslie and Craig came across sink cupboards that had rotted out when people had tried to clean out plaster traps themselves, or hadn’t got around to calling a plumber.

“Craig came home one day and said, you know what, I can make a better one than that,” Leslie says.

And that’s how it started. Craig created a new sink with a layered filter system that dentists can clean themselves. 
 
Leslie and Craig installed them in a few dentist practices while they were fitting them out, refining the product as they went, but they didn’t pursue it as a mainstay of their small business. 
 
The 2011 floods changed their course as Leslie and Craig’s 35-year-old cabinet making business went under three metres of water.

Craig decided to retire from the city to their farm up in Gympie. His retirement, however, did not last long as he continued to work on his filter ideas.

“He was up at the farm for about six months, and he said to me, you know my sink I designed, are you up for another business?” Leslie says.

“And I sort of looked at him and thought, I’ve seen how hard he’s worked to get it where it was, it would be great to see it commercialised. And I went yeah, okay, let’s do it,” she says.

A Smart Sink

Coming out of retirement Craig and Leslie launched Smart Sinks in 2014.

Alongside the sinks Craig has developed other innovative products and fittings to filter solids from water that can be used in a variety of industries.

“It went from being a bench mounted unit, to being in a trolley, to now being in a wheelie bin so tradies can use it too. It’s really exciting because it started off as a plaster trap for dental, but it’s just going across so many industries now,” Leslie says.

Their Australian made products solve many issues with commercial waste and have the potential to save businesses a great deal of money, but they offer environmental benefits as well. 
 
Their wheelie filtration bin allows worksites to recycle the water once any sediment has been removed.

“The reality is that our water is finite. You can’t continually just waste water. You have to, where you can, recycle it and the bin can do that so well,” says Leslie.

They’ve had recent success exploring the use of their wheelie bins to clean up after cement pours with the Gold Coast City Council; reducing the amount of water required, keeping the sediment out of waterways and capturing the water so it can be reused.

Smart Sinks Filtration Bin

Leslie explains that living out in a regional area has benefits and its downfalls, and that they are hoping to influence positive change in the Wide-Bay Burnett region.

“It’s great to be living out here at the farm, but we have obstacles, like there is no mobile service where we are and we use satellite internet, which at times can be unreliable,” she says.

“But I wouldn’t live anywhere else because it’s refreshing to be here and running a business, you don’t have all that interruption as well,” she adds.

“We’re letting everyone know that we’ve come from the city to Gympie to run our business, it can be done. Hopefully it makes people go, well Gympie is a good place to live, there are new businesses starting, and that will be future employment for my grandkids and Gympie kids,” says Leslie.

Leslie and Craig recently received support from Advance Queensland to attend Myriad, Queensland’s innovation and investment summit in Brisbane, using the event as an opportunity to meet new people and build their contacts.

“We did get some people interested and handed out a lot of information, and it was good to meet a whole lot of new people,” she says.
 
“I always make sure I collect business cards, and then we have ongoing discussions and emails. Every now and again, I’ll be doing something and I’ll go, I remember that fellow, he may be able to help me,” Leslie says. 
 
Leslie is quick to encourage others to set up their own startup, but acknowledges it is not always easy. Leslie says the help they received form Startup Gympie Region to transition from cabinet making to marketing their own invention was huge. 
 
 “I think everyone, if they have an idea, they should just step out of their comfort zone and give it a try. Go to some of the entrepreneurial seminars, and the startup events they have; go and listen, chew it over,” she says. 
 
“It won’t happen in five minutes, but if you’ve got something and you’re passionate about it, just go for it,” says Leslie. 
 
Craig and Leslie have turned their attention to the future and are working on commercialising their products.

“We’re in that stage of selling one or two, but we want to get into a distributer, maybe one of the big plumbing suppliers may take on the sink for the dental area, and we’d like to see the wheelie bin in all the hire companies,” she says.

“We’ll keep putting one foot in front of another, emailing people, talking to people. It’s a matter of seeking out the right people to demonstrate it to and they’ll say yes we want some of these.”

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