Graduate raises £80k to launch world's first magnetically-controlled pencil

Issue date: 07 October 2016


An award-winning graduate from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) has set his sights on a career as a top-selling designer after inventing the world's first magnetically-controlled pencil.

Ashley Hribar-Green, a former product design technology student, will see his high-end answer to the mechanical pencil hit the shelves later this year after his company raised £80,000 in a crowdfunding campaign.

He is hoping the patent-pending creation, named Magno, will be the first in a long line of products developed and sold by his company HribarCain.

The first class honours graduate invented the system with colleague Matthew Aston Cain after growing frustrated at the lack of precision offered by traditional mechanical pencils they use as designers working at technology giant Dyson.

After developing their unique magnetic technology, which will give architects, engineers and designers more control and accuracy with their technical drawings, the pair sought to finance their venture through a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. They shattered their £10,000 target, attracting £80,000 from more than 2,000 backers in just two months.

Some 5,000 Magno pencils are now production in China and will go on sale later this year. Billed as a product unlike anything else on the market, the 2mm lead pencil has a free-moving magnet concealed within its aluminium body which can be moved back and forth to adjust length.

Design engineer Ashley said: “In our jobs, we use mechanical pencils every day and one thing we found frustrating was the fact you only have an incremental action to dispense the lead - you have to adjust the length of lead by hand all the time. As designers, we have a strong passion to innovate products where design has become stale and we believed there was a better product to be designed. What we've created has a quick mechanism which propels the lead in the smoothest possible way, and gives you ultimate control over the lead's position.

“Overall it took us a year and a half to create. We experimented with the mechanism by putting a magnet in a brass tube and went through tens of prototypes to make sure it was exactly right. It's a product which appeals to everyone from architects, engineers, designers and illustrators to professionals like chartered surveyors who are simply recording data.

“We both want the business to grow and are already working on our next project. We are hoping to build a product range, so we won't necessarily be restricted to stationery.”

As part of the crowdfunding campaign, backers were promised a discounted Magno pencil in return for their donation.

Ashley, 27, who co-runs the business from headquarters in Bristol, received great satisfaction from seeing his product being snapped up by hundreds of people all over the world.

He said: “It was absolutely brilliant. It was incredible to see sales coming through every five seconds – we hit our £10,000 goal in the first two days. The two months of the crowdfunding campaign have been the most exciting and stressful period so far.

“Crowdfunding is great option. You are not buying your stock in the hope you will sell it - you are making pre-sales, so the risk of holding stock is eliminated. It's a great route and one which I would recommend to students who want to push forward their products.”

Ashley studied at UWE Bristol between 2006 and 2009, earning the top prize for a final year project in which he devised a stairlift system safe for amputees to use. He went on to work in furniture design for two and a half years before joining Dyson in a product design innovation role.

He said: “I have recommended the UWE course to a lot of people who have asked me about it - I found it really valuable. Since I left, the product design courses at UWE have gone through the roof. When I was interviewed at Dyson immediately after leaving university, I was told the company had never taken anyone on from UWE before. When I got a job at Dyson a few years later, there are loads of UWE graduates working there – the university has become more recognised.

“I've always wanted to be a designer inventing my own products. Being in industry for a few years has given the know-how to do it. When I left university, I didn't know anything about going to China to get something manufactured but the experience I've gained has given me the confidence to take that plunge.”

Tod Burton, Deputy Dean of UWE Bristol's Faculty of Environment and Technology, was one of Ashley's former tutors.

He said: “Ashley's work is a great example of innovation in action. The product design programmes here at UWE Bristol place this entrepreneurial approach at the core of our design education through live projects, working with industry and start ups – we wish him all the best for this project and will be celebrating his future success.”

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