Alumni in Focus

Henry Blake

Managing Director, WoodblocX

Henry Blake

Henry Blake, Dragon’s Den contestant and managing director of Scottish company WoodBlocX, studied Architectural Technology at RGU in 2001 and now runs a successful business in the Highlands of Scotland.

Following graduation, Henry was offered a place on the HMV retail scheme for graduates interested in management. From there, he worked as a community development officer in the Scottish Highlands, during which time he taught himself website development and set up a small company running cycling events with some friends. In 2012, he began WoodBlocX with the aim of relaunching it as an online business.

WoodblocX began as an idea when a customer approached Henry’s family’s timber business looking for some help. Munro Sawmills in Dingwall goes back generations to 1890 when great-great-great grandmother Elsie Smith started a timber supply business and is today one of the UK’s largest producers of wooden fencing panel components. The idea for WoodBlocX happened purely by chance in 2001, when a sawmill customer purchased some wood to try and build some raised beds. The team helped develop the customer’s idea and created WoodBlocX, which is completely unique and patented.

As part of his undergraduate course, Henry learnt how to use AutoCAD, a skill which he says has been invaluable for the development and scaling up of WoodBlocX. It is a core part of the design process and over the years the business has developed their own bespoke version. The product is a modular timber system made up of a series of different sized blocks of wood which are pre-drilled for dowels to be placed in, the structures are built up in a similar way to Lego, and customers build the kits themselves. WoodBlocX can be used to make raised beds, raised ponds, retaining walls, garden furniture and bespoke projects.

Henry knew there was so much potential for the product to succeed as there wasn’t anything available that provided the same benefits as WoodBlocX. It was a huge opportunity to build the business.

In 2014, Henry and his father Philip were selected to pitch for the Dragons on series 10, episode 6 of Dragon’s Den. Henry recounts it as an amazing experience. At the time, the relaunched WoodBlocX was only a few months old, and his son Hamish had been born two weeks prior, so it was an intense time. According to Henry, what the viewers see is a fraction of the time spent in the Den, in reality they were there for a couple of hours. It really started the ball rolling for WoodBlocX and since then the momentum has continued and the business has gone from strength to strength.

Henry credits his father for his entrepreneurial spirit and believes that with Philip’s guidance and patience he has learned many of the skills he has needed to be successful. In 2016, Henry was selected to attend a course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) globally renowned Entrepreneurship Development Program which was a beneficial experience. 

Juggling professional and personal lives is not easy and Henry acknowledges that he’s not sure if they are ever truly separate. He says that the most important thing is making sure that relationships are never put under any strain from the pressures of the business, something that is sometimes easier said than done.

WoodBlocX is now a multi-million-pound business with 15 employees and has just won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the International Trade Category, having experienced continual growth in Europe in the past three years.

Henry’s long-term plans include developing WoodBlocX into a well-known garden brand in the UK, a brand which is already established in Germany and France. He has recently launched new websites for Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium. The aim is to continue to grow in the EU with a plan to take the product to the US in the future.

Henry’s advice to alumni considering starting their own business is to be kind to everyone and don't worry about making mistakes. Those are good words to live by.

WoodblocX can be found at:

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