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Small business focus: Alexa helps power up smart home technology business for Caroline Laurenson

Caroline Laurenson and her husband, Thomas
Caroline Laurenson and her husband, Thomas

Each week, we ask small businesses key questions. Here we speak to Caroline Laurenson, owner and managing director of TL Tech, based in Rothienorman, Aberdeenshire.

How and why did you start in business?

I set up TL Tech Smart Home Solutions with my husband, Thomas, in August 2016. The business idea came from Thomas’ hobbies and background as an electrical engineer.

Initially, we saw our business as “plumbers” of the smart home world, however, we quickly realised how transformational these technologies can be – and that’s when I became more involved in the business development.

Smart homes and technology are a big passion of ours, and we love helping people go from technophobes to technophiles.

How did you get to where you are today?

I have a rather unusual background, going from working full-time as a chemical engineer in the corporate world of oil and gas to running a tech business that is very much consumer-focused.

But while I say it is unusual, I’m seeing more people working in multifaceted areas, developing really diverse skill sets, where their day job is one thing and, in the evenings and at weekends, they may do something more creative or related to their hobbies – like baking or cooking, or even things like coaching sports to kids.

Who helped you?

We’ve had support from a number of organisations, including Opportunity North East, AccelerateHer, Barclays Eagle Labs, Abilitynet, Business Gateway, Elevator, and more recently Robert Gordon University and The Datalab.

I became a member of the Federation of Small Businesses a few months ago and I wish I’d signed up earlier in our business journey, as I’m already seeing the benefits of its networking opportunities, helpful guides, resources and business templates.

What has been your biggest mistake?

I don’t believe in mistakes – things may not go so well sometimes but you can always learn from it and move on.  I don’t class mistakes as a bad thing or build them up into something bigger than they are.

What was your greatest achievement?

Our business went through a significant pivot last year and instead of focusing only on smart home services we moved to online remote support.

During this time, we really wanted to do more to help people and so decided to create a voice application, Kindspace, for Amazon’s Alexa to support self-care and boost wellbeing.

Despite having never done anything like this before, we launched the app in the UK Amazon store in November, and since then we’ve been working on improving the user experience and content.

The Kindspace database now has more than 400 tips and signposting to support people in areas of their life including nutrition, exercise, sleep, mindfulness and personal growth.

One really beautiful feature we’ve added is our sonic branding, which I am proud to say uses my voice.

If you were in power in government, what would you change?

I’d like to see everyone have access to the internet and more support for digital literacy and safety.  The pandemic has shone a light on how fundamental access to digital products and services is.  They’ve become a necessity rather than a “nice to have” or way to improve efficiency.

What do you still hope to achieve?

We would love to be able to help people transform their lives and homes to create their own kind spaces on an even bigger scale.

Our mission is called Smart Meets Kind – which is all about empowering people, regardless of age, technical ability or finances to adopt digital solutions.

We want to stop the digital divide from widening as technology advances, by providing education and looking at ways we can influence policy in this area.

Our latest project is a smart home on wheels that will allow people in more remote locations to be able to see a working demonstration of these technologies.

What do you do to relax?

I love music, and singing is my go-to thing when I need a wellbeing boost. I also like crafts, like sewing, when I get time. It is very therapeutic and relaxing, while there is also a lovely sense of accomplishment creating something new to wear or for the home.

What are you currently reading, listening to or glued to on the TV?

I’ve been participating in a wonderful Miracle Morning group for the past four months. This practice is based on the work of Hal Elrod, and I’m finally getting round to finding out more about his teachings in a book, The Miracle Morning for Entrepreneurs.

What do you waste your money on?

I am really careful about spending money – it stems from my upbringing, when my mum was always making and fixing things, and shopping in charity shops to save money.  I can’t say there is any area where I waste money.

How would your friends describe you?

Kind, compassionate, dependable and organised.

What would your enemies say about you?

That I am annoyingly organised.

What do you drive and dream of driving?

I have a Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, which I’ve had for the past six years.  I’m looking at going all-electric soon as we have our own wind turbine at home to charge it.  I would love to have the electric Mini or the new Fiat 500 electric.

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