How did you become a part of E-Spark?
I saw E-Spark online as part of my weekly review of news on high growth businesses. I am well networked locally in the business innovation community and look for new business arrivals to explore mutual support. I also bank with Natwest and had recently moved house to Brighton so was interested in finding out about their new local support initiative.
I put my application online and was asked to join a group of about 30 local entrepreneurs in giving a 60 second pitch to join E-Spark. The pitching was great fun and I was lucky to be voted top, winning a £100 cash prize!
What made you decide on joining an incubator?
I’ve always been a big supporter of incubators and the e-spark offer was exceptionally attractive. The combination of a fully paid hot desk in a modern fully fitted office, smart mentoring with regular reviews, and a super crowd of really interesting innovators buzzing with energy and ideas, was almost too good to be true.
Another big plus was the location being just a short walk from the station. I wanted easy access to London and its investment community. Incubators can grow much more quickly through crowdfunding and that was a key part of our business development strategy.
How did the business evolve under the programme?
The equity share offer for Applied Microcurrent Technology evolved with the help of my mentor Mandy who helped create a great pitch statement. E-Spark introduced us onsite to AngelsDen and other potential investor syndicates to whom we subsequently pitched and who offered useful advice on valuation and risk.
I had also already employed a few months previously as an intern from Sussex University called Lewis Poku in the role of market researcher. We shared the same hot desk to assess the market opportunities, identify key media and investor targets, and draft a business strategy to obtain additional funding for growth. You can see the value we obtained by looking at the learning log which Lewis produced after completing his internship with pictures from the Brighton Hatchery.
What were the key benefits of taking part?
During the programme we completed the offer to investors, the market research and a full IP audit for business sustainability. These reports reduce risk to investors and can now be used to seek additional finance. The opportunity to network with other peer group innovators I’d previously worked with was rewarding as most entrepreneurs have few central facilities and meeting places. I also met John Allen (below) the national Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses when he visited the Brighton Hatchery. FSB are the largest trade body in the UK with 180,000 members and his visit and my endorsements have encouraged other new firms to join.
An immediate benefit for Lewis was that after his internship he was awarded a place as a Chiclet for himself. The E-Spark experience had boosted his confidence and competence to the extent that he has set up an innovative business called Booksby to recycle online university text books for students, saving them big sums for their 4 years in higher education.
As a young startup, what were the biggest challenges you faced as a business when launching?
Identifying and protecting the intellectual property and assessing competitor market risks were critical. IP searching and registration is vital for all start-ups. Brand protection for trademarks and designs must take place as soon as they are created. This can be before company names and domains are registered. Too few start-ups or high growth enterprises understand IP and many have never had an IP audit. Trading under a name owned by another party can result in being sued and losing the business. Not registering designs and work processes allows others to copy them. Data protection is also important as loss of data can be very expensive.
What did you do to overcome them?
I ensured data protection registration with the ICO online for just £35. I accessed grant funding for the intellectual property audit report. The report covered past, current and future IP requirements and how to ensure long term protection. This document can now be shown to potential equity investors to give them peace of mind. I registered trademarks and designs and showed others in the business how to do this. The total cost was just a few hundred pounds. Affordable for any new business to obtain future funding for growth.
How do you differentiate from rivals?
Intellectual property registrations create “first mover” advantage and protects the product from competitors and copy-cats. But I’d add that uniqueness of people especially the management team will ensure the brand carries successfully in competitive markets. If the team has the right mix of technical know-how, commercial awareness, market experience, and a wide network of active supporters and endorsers then it can win business over others.
Crowdfunding also helped in raising wider awareness of the benefits of converting customers into shareholders to guarantee long term relations. I also promote the value of flexible financing with low-cost rental offers for the product which can be converted into a discounted purchase later. Making acquisition easy and low-cost for early adopters reduces concerns.
Can you name key milestones for the business since launching?
I introduced the product to the National Exhibition Centre British Inventors Awards through my relationships with inventors clubs. The product ended up as a Finalist for British Invention of the Year which was great PR and free national advertising. My hiring Lewis as a market researcher brought in over 1000 new contacts for social media marketing via the press and news media. Organising and obtaining USA and EU regulatory body approval statements has reduced the risk of future investors being concerned about market development. Drafting Social Impact reports also makes it easier to engage with future investors who look for responsible business standards and a sustainable business model.
What plans do you have for the company in 2016?
The Directors have asked me to focus my future time in consultancy support so they may be able to use my knowledge and contacts in the markets of health and technology. I’d personally like the business to make more of myself as a case study showing personal health benefits. When I began using the product last year I had a life-threatening health condition called atrial fibrillation. In the UK 800,000 people across all age groups have this condition and are put on drugs for their lifetime. There are 100,000 deaths every year. I now no longer suffer from this condition and my doctor has signed me off as not needing any more medications. I’d like to see the product used by more people as I can testify to its effectiveness. Let’s hope this article spreads the word!
Strategic Management Partner with Applied Microcurrent Technology