Following an EIS investment of £50,000 in July 2015, Oxford Genetics has become the latest emerging star to receive direct investment from Mercia Technologies PLC. The investment, which will total up to £2m, will allow the company to accelerate both its research and market penetration through the development of significant commercial partnerships.

To read the full stock exchange announcement on the Mercia Technologies website, click here. http://bit.ly/1Ro0abQ

Medherant is coming along in leaps and bounds since it received its first investment from Mercia Fund Management last June, garnering a lot of attention from the national press, such as this article for the Daily Mail in December.

The simple technology has the capacity to work across a number of different types of drugs, from analgesics to anti-infectives and hormones, delivering the drug in a higher dose directly to the area where it is needed via a comfortable and easy to use patch. The fact that the gut is not required to digest any part of the drug also means it can bypass potential complications with toxicity or destruction of the drug during the digestive process.

In the February edition of Mednous, a publication of Evernow Publishing Ltd, Investment Director and Head of Technology Transfer Dr Nicola Broughton features alongside Medherant CEO Nigel Davis to discuss the amazing potential of this technology, and how Mercia is using its enviable deal flow pipeline via its 14 university partners to support spinouts across the Midlands, the North and Scotland.

To download the full article, click here The interview with Nicola and Nigel can be found on page ten.

To find out more about Medherant, and to see their patches in action, watch this video:
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Originally a University of Birmingham spin-out, The Native Antigen Company (NAC), an Oxfordshire-based specialist in the research, development and manufacturing of high purity viral and bacterial products for research purposes, has developed the world’s only commercial available pure extract of the Zika virus.

This will be of vital importance to the research industry in the fight against Zika, which was recently declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and NAC is already attracting attention from researchers around the world as they race to develop specific tests and vaccines to identify and cure the viral strain.

Known as the Zika NS1 protein, NAC’s product is a natural (or native) match for the key parts (or antigens) of the Zika virus, which can be safely used to test biological reactions in a wide variety of circumstances such as disease diagnosis and vaccine development. There is as yet no vaccine for Zika and, due to its structural similarity to Dengue and Chikungunya, it is often very difficult to diagnose.

Steven Powell, CEO at The Native Antigen Company, said:

“The Zika virus has been front-page news for the past few weeks due to the threat it poses to unborn babies around the globe, and the WHO’s recent categorisation of this as a ‘global emergency’ underlines the need for the scientific community to take action.

“Our Zika virus NS1 protein will be a vital tool in the fight against Zika, allowing laboratories around the globe to research effective methods of diagnosing and vaccinating the disease. We will continue to develop further active reagents, which will be key to international efforts to monitor and control the spread of current and future deadly viruses.”

NAC has also developed native antigens associated with Dengue, West Nile and Yellow Fevers. Pure native antigens, which are capable of inducing an immune response within the host organism, also enable researchers to perform tests on certain viral strains easily, yielding more accurate results than other man made (or recombinant) methods.

NAC is an emerging star from leading technology investor Mercia Technologies’ wholly-owned subsidiary of third-party funds, Mercia Fund Management (MFM) and the business is growing rapidly. Since it received its first investment five years ago from MFM, NAC has built a strong team of scientific talent to provide a vital line of antigens retailed globally to what is a largely underserved industry.

Peter Dines, Investment Director and Head of Life Sciences at Mercia Fund Management, said:

“Since Mercia Fund Management’s first investment five years ago and latterly becoming a direct investment of Mercia Technologies PLC, NAC has grown to not only offer a unique service to the research industry, but also facilitates access to its products through a sleek and secure online catalogue. We are pleased to continue to support them as they accelerate their work in the fight against Zika and other deadly viruses and bacteria.”

Laboratories across the world are ordering NAC’s comprehensive product line of bacterial, protozoal and viral antigens directly from their secure online e-shop, which was launched in July last year.

Abzena plc (AIM:ABZA), a life sciences group providing services and technologies to enable development and manufacture of biopharmaceutical products, has signed a significant licensing deal for its novel site specific ThioBridge™ antibody drug conjugate (ADC) linker technology. The partner is a publicly listed US biotech company that is developing and commercialising oncology therapies, including ADCs.

Abzena will receive an initial licence and target nomination fee and has the potential to receive further licence fees and milestone payments of up to $150 million if the partner develops a product for each of three designated targets with the ThioBridge™ technology, as well as royalties on the sale of ThioBridge™ ADC products developed under this agreement.

ThioBridge™ is Abzena’s proprietary ADC linker technology, which links antibodies and other proteins to drugs. Following a collaborative research programme jointly conducted by Abzena and its partner for the evaluation of ThioBridge™, during which multiple ADC product candidates were evaluated for efficacy and safety in preclinical models, the biotech company has selected a lead product for further development.

Dr John Burt, CEO of Abzena commented:

“Signing a licence for ThioBridge™ with a large US biotech partner is a key milestone for us and a great endorsement of our proprietary technology and expertise.

“Through the research collaboration, our scientists have built a strong working relationship with our partner and have demonstrated the value of the ThioBridge™ technology in creating novel ADCs. We look forward to continuing to work together as this ADC progresses to and through clinical development.”

Mercia Fund Management (MFM) a leading technology investor with a focus on the Midlands, North and Scotland, has made its first early stage investment into Manchester Imaging, a dental diagnostic software spinout from the University of Manchester. The investment supports Mercia’s recent commitment to expansion into the North of England, following its announcement of partnerships with the University of York, the University of Liverpool, and Liverpool John Moores University.

Founded by Hugh Devlin, Professor of Restorative Dentistry, and Dr Jim Graham, Reader in the Centre for Imaging Science at Manchester, and spun out of the University by UMIP (University of Manchester Intellectual Property), Manchester Imaging is an early stage spinout developing image analysis and diagnostic software for the dental industry.

Manchester Imaging currently has four brands under development: Cariesdent, Osteodent, Implant Advisor 1 and Implant Advisor 2. Each of these services is designed to spot tooth decay and other potential problems earlier, empowering patients to look after their teeth more effectively, and saving millions for insurance companies and governments in terms of critical dental repair.

The company uses Active Shape Models (ASM) and Active Appearance Modelling (AAM) which analyse models, shapes and faces and are widely used for a variety of medical purposes, including facial recognition. This is the first time that such technology has been adapted as a diagnostic tool for the dental industry.

Manchester Imaging has received an initial investment of £265,000 from a consortium of Mercia Growth Fund 4, a tax-efficient EIS (Enterprise Investment Scheme) & SEIS (Seed EIS) fund supporting early stage start-ups and spinouts within the MFM portfolio, and individual investors.

Investment Director and Head of Technology Transfer Dr Nicola Broughton said:

“We are delighted to provide investment to Manchester Imaging, which has already received significant interest from larger dental services providers. Although still an early stage company, Manchester Imaging has a credible team – including Tony Travers, former Global Director at AstraZeneca, who joined recently as CEO – with the potential to grow to be a substantial business with several successful brands.”

Tony Travers, CEO of Manchester Imaging Ltd, said:

“Mercia’s investment will allow Manchester Imaging to continue development of its core product portfolio, the services of which are a first for the dental care sector. We hope that, by empowering practitioners and patients to better identify potential problems, we will be able to save local services’ and insurers’ money, whilst ensuring that people have healthy teeth and gums right into old age.

“We especially look forward to working with Dr Nicola Broughton, who has a wealth of experience in supporting and advising university spinouts across the country.”

Dr Rich Ferrie, Operations Director at UMIP, a division of UMI3, said:

“I am delighted that Mercia has invested in Manchester Imaging, which is another very promising spinout from our portfolio. I believe the combination of highly innovative technology from our University, strong company management, and the investment support of Mercia Fund Management, is compelling and positions the company for significant growth and value creation for all shareholders.”

A specialist accelerator for health-focussed tech startups has been launched in Leeds by Dotforge.

The Dotforge Health + Data program is investing up to £20,000 into ten companies which use or create data for health applications and are developing products for use by doctors, clinicians, patients and carers.

Emma Cheshire, Managing Director, CEO and Co-Founder of Dotforge, said:

“We have successfully graduated three programmes during the last two years and we are delighted to expand our reach to offer an accelerator to help new entrepreneurs working on developing data driven applications for health.

“Leeds is the perfect place to run this accelerator, as the city is the epicentre for health data in the UK, being the home of the NHS national data resource and base for many of the key patient record providers for the UK.

“These companies service over 55 million GP patient records, as well as A&E and social services data management resources. This creates a rich ecosystem to support and sustain new companies and attract talented people to the area.

“At Dotforge we support talented startups with investment and mentoring, and we have teamed up with key players in the health arena to ensure the companies build connections in the sector.”

The accelerator will be delivered by Dotforge and brings together leading UK clinical software and services provider EMIS Health and specialist technology investor Mercia Fund Management, along with the Yorkshire and Humber Academic Health Science Network and Creative England to offer a unique package of support for health focussed startups and early stage companies.

TechNorth is also sponsoring the program as part of its strategy to profile the health technology strengths of the North of England.

Claire Braithwaite of Tech North said:

“Accelerator programs are a crucially important component of tech ecosystems. In addition to the support they provide to the companies on the programme, they are a draw for investors, experts and customers, building critical mass and helping to build awareness of tech innovation in a region.

“The North of England has a globally competitive offering for health tech innovators and Tech North sees an opportunity to attract additional inward investment to the region in health tech. The Dotforge Health and Data programme supports this inward investment opportunity, providing a pathway to investment and a market in the UK for international health tech companies.”

Phil Webb, Chief Technology Officer, EMIS Health, said:

“As the UK’s leading provider of clinical software and services, EMIS Health is delighted to support this important initiative. It will allow us to extend the scope of our current partner programme, which brings innovative third party products to our customer base, to include work with earlier stage and smaller companies.

“We are excited about the opportunity to incubate new healthcare technology ideas and to integrate them with our own platform for the wider benefit of the NHS and, ultimately, patients.”

Kate Adam, Programme Manager for Business Investment at Creative England, said:

“There’s a real buzz around health tech at the moment, and partnering with Dotforge Health presents a great opportunity for us to help discover those untapped ideas which are ripe for business development.

“For us, Dotforge Health also works hand in hand with our Interactive Healthcare Programme, which we’ll be launching again later this year. It’s an exciting time for industry crossover and creative collaboration, which we are proud to be a part of.”

The use of data in health has been identified as a significant step change in the way healthcare is provided. Central to this is the shifting role of the patient, from passive to a more engaged role in managing and engaging in their health and well-being.

Peter Dines, Investment Director and Head of Life Sciences at Mercia Fund Management, said:

“With a growing number of public and private healthcare providers seeking options to improve service provision and lower costs, it is more critical than ever that digital start-ups are given the support they need to address this important need.”

The Dotforge team worked closely with the commissioning advisors and AHSN in Yorkshire and the Humber to identify the key areas of opportunity for data innovation.

Richard Stubbs, Commercial Director at the Yorkshire & Humber Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) goes on to explain:

“The Dotforge Accelerator program will provide assistance to early stage companies developing products and services that are supporting health data analytics, self-monitoring and diagnostics and screening tools.

“Our support of the programme will help forge links between the companies and our members from the NHS, ensuring that the products and services being developed are aligned closely to the needs of commissioners.”

Companies developing their products in Leeds will benefit from a progressive joined up approach to health and social care lead by a partnership group that includes the local hospital trusts, GPs and social service providers.

Colin Mawhinney from Head of Health Innovation, Leeds Health Parnetships, goes on to explain:

“We are delighted to welcome Dotforge Health and Data to Leeds. The accelerator complements the significant work already undertaken to enhance care by sharing data and information through the Leeds Care Record and by establishing a city wide Test Bed. This is making a real difference to patient care – improving outcomes, experience and supporting patients to better look after themselves – while at the same time helping to transform our services.

“The companies attending the accelerator will benefit from our integrated Health & Social Care system and connections with the strong health informatics industry base here in the city.”

To apply, go to www.dotforge.com

For more information contact Catherine@cause.uk.com

InoCardia, a Coventry University spinout that combines technical excellence and biological understanding to increase the safety of new drugs, has received £300,000 from Mercia Fund Management, a leading technology investor with a focus on the Midlands, North and Scotland.

The funding, which follows on from an SEIS investment made by Mercia in 2013, will be used to build the management and technical team in order to capitalise on interest from pharmaceutical research bodies, as well as to help progress InoCardia’s suite of products into commercialisation.

InoCardia, under the expert supervision of Professor Helen Maddock, Professor of Cardiovascular Physiology and Pharmacology at Coventry University, has developed a model for assessing drug effects on heart muscle tissue. Known as the “work-loop model”, it uses a contractility assay to measure heart muscle contraction and relaxation in normal, ageing and diseased tissue. It is currently the only relevant human model of cardio-toxicity available worldwide.

An assessment of heart contraction is a vital part of initial drug testing, as it enables researchers to identify drugs or chemical compounds that could potentially be toxic to an important part of the cardiovascular system.

Adverse drug effects on the cardiovascular system are a major cause of attrition in drug discovery and development, leading to massive drug withdrawals and costing pharmaceutical companies billions in lost revenues and legal fees.

InoCardia’s model is able to determine the likely toxicity of new drugs to the cardiovascular system before clinical testing, thus reducing the likelihood of attrition, saving billions in revenue and improving patient safety, all without the need for prior human and animal trials.

InoCardia has also recently been awarded funding of up to £700,000 by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, through the Collaborative Research and Development (CR&D) competition: ‘Development of non-animal technologies’. The competition is part of the Non-Animal Technologies (NATs) programme that has been developed by Innovate UK in collaboration with the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs).

The NATs programme has been established to accelerate the commercial development and application of non-animal technologies for drug and chemical development to improve prediction of efficacy and safety. The current award was made to support collaborative research and development projects and was co-funded by Innovate UK, NC3Rs, MRC and EPSRC.

Dr Nicola Broughton, Investment Director and Head of Technology Transfer at Mercia Fund Management, said:

“We are delighted to provide further capital to InoCardia, which has demonstrated significant commercial interest in its core technology and service provision. This sector is ripe for innovation, with the commercial traction and product development to date confirming the capability of InoCardia’s Founder and CSO, Professor Helen Maddock, and her department to innovate and develop products with the potential to reduce the cost of accelerating drugs into clinical development and ultimately saving lives.”

Professor Helen Maddock, Founder and CSO of InoCardia, said:

“It is with great pleasure that we accept further investment from Mercia. Their support has been invaluable as we seek to commercialise our research and build partnerships with pharmaceutical organisations.

“We also look forward to working with Nicola Broughton, who has extensive experience in working with university spinouts on the commercialisation and development of their research.”

At Mercia, a listed investment business, we initially look at companies at start-up or university spin-out level, and then typically support them for a further seven to 15 years to investment exit. During this time, we take a hands-on and patient approach to accelerating their development into cash generative enterprises over the medium to long term within the technology sectors in which we have deep knowledge. We review our model and how this sits in the evolving venture industry later in this update.

This second quarter saw yet another productive period for us, including seven investments via our third party funds into a growing portfolio of early stage investments; two direct investments to build our position in our emerging stars; the raising of £6m to invest in new and existing companies within MFM to develop our next generation of potential emerging stars; two more university partnerships with the University of Strathclyde and Abertay University; and the opening of our office in Edinburgh to build our presence across Scotland.

For more information on Mercia, you can also follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and now Medium for up-to-date news and views from myself and the Mercia team.

Mark Payton, Chief Executive Officer, @MPayton_Mercia


Reflection on the last quarter

The context for this update is centred on our own differentiatied proposition, Mercia's Complete Capital solutionwhich was developed prior to listing on AIM last December, resulting in the overlap of four key areas of focus for Mercia.

As momentum builds, a lot has been achieved over the second quarter of this year:

  1. £6m of third party early stage and development capital. With the Mercia Growth Fund 4 and University Growth Fund (a hybrid Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and Seed EIS fund), this will provide investment capital over the 2015/2016 financial year in new and developing businesses within MFM, our pipeline for our direct investment strategy;
  2. 23 employees across the Group. As an organisation, we continue to expand, albeit at a controlled rate;
  3. 45 portfolio companies within MFM. The portfolio ranges in age from six months to eight years. Seven new investments were made via MFM this quarter – two of which were into university spinout businesses;
  4. 18 direct investments held by Mercia Technologies PLC. Two follow-on investments into existing direct investments made this quarter, building our position within these assets.

Mercia Fund Management

Our university partnerships

MFM links Mercia to deal flow sources, such as our 11 university partnerships, whilst also occupying the “post-seed” and onwards space. We look for investments across our four technology sectors: digital entertainment; software, electronics and hardware; advanced materials, engineering and specialist manufacturing; and life sciences, matched against subsectors which are pre-identified by our investment directors. These investments are held initially by our third party funds, which act as the vehicle by which we nurture and grow the promising emerging stars of the future, which can then be channelled into our direct investment strategy.

We are also pleased to announce two new partnerships with Abertay University and the University of Strathclyde in this quarter.

Abertay University (opposite) is the leading UK University in research and development into the digital sector – a key sector for Mercia. As Mark Batho, Vice-Principal and Deputy Vice Chancellor, put it: “We’re delighted to establish this partnership with Mercia Technologies. Their evident track record and expertise in providing specialist input to university start-ups, particularly in the digital sector, will be valuable in encouraging and supporting the creativity and dynamism for which our students are known”.

The University of Strathclyde (below), which has key research strengths in advanced manufacturing, life sciences and electronics, is important in both its alignment with Mercia’s technology sector focus, and Mercia’s commitment to expansion in Scotland. Commenting on the new partnership, Stuart Mackenzie, Commercialisation Infrastructure Manager at the University of Strathclyde, said: “The University is delighted to have added Mercia Technologies to our list of preferred investment partners. We have been impressed by Mercia’s success in raising new funds in a difficult market, and by Mercia’s commitment to expanding its geographic footprint.”

Building a pipeline of the next generation of emerging stars

University spinouts account for approximately 50% of the MFM portfolio, further emphasising the importance of our university partnerships. Such investments made by MFM in this quarter include:

  • InoCardia (Coventry University), a life science provider developing innovative models for evaluating the cardio-toxicity of new compounds under development;
  • Aston Eyetech (Aston University), a spinout commercialising a developed and sophisticated software product for accurately diagnosing and assessing certain eye diseases;

In addition to the above, investment was provided to the following businesses which are not university spin-outs:

  • wayve (digital), a start-up with growing revenue, which has developed a software platform that allows third parties to more easily convert static advertising assets into responsive web based adverts viewable on any device, and to track the engagement generated by these adverts in real time;
  • Customer Clever (software) is a pioneering facial recognition algorithm that can determine the gender, ethnicity, age and time of visit of a customer, allowing companies to gather accurate information on the demographic make-up of existing and potential new customers;
  • Love Me Beauty (digital, e-commerce), an online beauty product distribution platform with growing revenue;
  • Trink (digital), a novel business set-up which is working with Mercia in digital media and social sharing (more to follow!);
  • Intelligent Health (life sciences, digital health), a start-up combatting inactivity which operates many programmes nationally and is now expanding overseas with digitally connected initiatives such as “Beat the Street”, in which each participant receives a fob that they touch against “Beat Boxes” located along their journey.

Mercia Technologies PLC

In 2014, £2.7 bn was invested across the South East of England in venture capital against less than £300m across all of Scotland. This is not due to a lack of investible propositions, but rather a locality of investment capital to the South East. Mercia intends to take advantage of a growing pool of high quality investment propositions across the North and Scotland.

As part of this expansion, Paul Devlin (opposite) has joined us as Investment Manager Scotland to head up our newly opened office in Edinburgh alongside two other Mercia employees. Paul has a strong track record as an entrepreneur and supporter of early stage businesses and commented that: “This is a fantastic opportunity to help scale up Scotland’s existing start-ups and support the next breakthrough ideas. Mercia is well placed to support this, both through participating at later Series A investment, and also through its award winning SEIS and EIS investment funds”.

Direct investment activity

Approximately 50% of the portfolio of direct investments held by Mercia Technologies PLC are university spinouts. Over the period since 31st July 2015, we have also completed the following investments across our core technology sectors, enabling us to build promising businesses with strong growth potential:

  • Digital entertainment: A follow-on investment into VirtTrade, a virtual trading card platform partnered with Panini;
  • Software: A follow-on investment into Crowd Reactive, a rapidly expanding interactive social media, which brings together social media feeds from providers including Twitter, Instagram, Vine and Yammer at major events;
  • Telecoms: A potentially highly disruptive business addressing the challenges of the use of multiple antennae in mobile devices: Smart Antenna Technologies (a University of Birmingham spinout).

All of the above are emerging stars from the MFM portfolio. The direct
investments continue to grow at an impressive rate. As an example, our photo opposite shows the launch event for The Assembly, a new Virtual Reality game from nDreams which was debuted to the public at EGX in Birmingham on Tuesday 24th September. Approximately 2,000 people played the game during the conference, with over an hour wait to have a go! Do have a look at the YouTube video.


Here at Mercia

I was honoured to be awarded one of the national awards from Ernst & Young
for Entrepreneur of the Year 2015, but more importantly Mercia Technologies PLC was recognised at the Growth Investor Awards (2015) by winning “Industry Game Changer” for our established hybrid model of third party funding for our younger portfolio of technology companies, followed by our direct investment to scale our emerging stars.

And within the team, a big congratulations goes out to Mike Hayes for his recent marriage to Liz!


Industry trends

Traditional fund managers in venture seek 10-30x returns to account for portfolio failure and lengthy timelines to exit. Recent historic data demonstrates that, in order to achieve a 10x (from first investment to exit) it takes on average 12 years rising to 18 years for 30x returns. Furthermore, and excluding multiples on return, this data can be summarised thus when looking at the US venture scene: from investment to exit it takes a founding shareholder on average 16 years to see a return; from seed and early stage investment on average it takes 14 years; and a typical VC investment takes on average eight years. With the traditional fund investing for the first six years and harvesting in the next four, they will clearly be selling short!

Mercia Technologies PLC is a listed investment Business (breaking the mould of the traditional fund manager) that benefits from our wholly-owned third party fund management business, Mercia Fund Management (MFM).

MFM provides us with the opportunity to support spinouts from our growing number of university partnerships, as well as start-up businesses sourced through our partner accelerators, or the personal networks of our Investment Directors.

Through our Complete Capital Solution, we support the early journey of these businesses through MFM over a three to eight year period before they transition across as direct investments – at this point we expect to hold these investments for a further three to seven years, giving a total of six to 15 years from first investment to exit across the Mercia Group. This model thus provides an informed and patient approach as we look to build highly valuable direct investment assets, and fits exactly with industry observations in venture outlined above.

A report further emphasising the earlier observations by Mercia and others was published in the FT on the 1st November 2015 by European Technology Correspondent Murad Ahmed, in which he highlights the importance of a patient approach using data published by Draper Esprit (opposite). Esprit, a private traditional venture capital fund manager, recently commented on the positive approaches practised by this new asset class of listed investment businesses, which highlights the improved returns associated with building a holding over extended periods (typically in excess of ten years).


Looking forward

Mercia Technologies benefits from a portfolio within MFM that has received over £20m investment over the last ten years to build out our next generation of emerging stars – a number already transitioning across as direct investments. This, together with available investment capital raised on AIM in December 2014 to execute our direct investment strategy and a team with deep sector experience, bodes well for the remainder of 2015 for both Mercia and our portfolio of companies.

Our focus during the current quarter builds on last quarter’s one of ‘Ambition’ and relates to our consistent mantra of ‘Informed, Patient Capital’ as we look to scale our model across the North and into Scotland.

For more information, you can visit the Mercia Technologies and Mercia Fund Management websites. We also have a brand new Insights section, with regular updates from leading entrepreneurs from within our portfolio of companies.

To download a PDF copy of The Mercia Group Quarterly, click here.

Big business is used to it, smaller enterprises not so much. But the gathering of data (particularly ‘Big Data’) is becoming as important as branding and marketing for smaller companies. As an SME, the chances are you’re collecting massive amounts of data every day for your organisation, but what are you doing with it all?

Big Data is rarely out of the technology news pages, with articles on how it will change our lives, both professionally and personally. Yet smaller companies (unless their business is precisely to do with Big Data), rarely treat it as a priority, demoting it below the coffee-making function.

When seeking funding or an investment strategy from a company such as Mercia, it is critical to know what your Big Data is and what to be talking about to a potential investor, because they will be interested.

Moreover, this is not just sales data or traditional marketing research data. For online companies (and I can’t think of any that are not in some way ‘online’) it can be all kinds of data.

For example, in a basic form, Google Analytics provides a lot of big data about your online visitors: their use of your website; what they buy/don’t buy and how they buy/don’t buy it; what they gather information on and what they are far less interested in, etc. And this is just Google! The fact that Social Media platforms have data on us that many of us are aware of is a lot more controversial.

That aside, the challenge with Big Data for many tech SMEs is the lack of understanding of how to implement and benefit from it. Knowing that you have to incorporate Big Data into your business strategy, pitching rounds and procurement process is one thing, but knowing how to actually do it is something completely different.

Even Bigger Data…

Big Data has often been defined as amounts of information so large that they become too difficult to gather, process and analyse using traditional methods. Such information may be collected from a variety of sources. For example, sensors that monitor climate and environmental conditions, healthcare ‘wearable tech’ that monitors our physiology, not to mention other data from nearly five billion or so IoT (Internet of Things) connected-devices around the world… and this is only in its early days!

Big Data can be overwhelming, so you need to plan how to digest and use it all

When it comes to Big Data, there are a number of critical aspects:

  1. Volume: Big Data most commonly involves very large amounts of information. Indeed, there are five petabytes of data generated each day by mobile devices alone. More data isn’t necessarily better, but a lack of data can be fatal for your business.

  2. Speed: The speed at which data transfers plus the time in which you can interrogate it. If it is not possible to interpret the data you’re collecting, or you don’t have the bandwidth to access it, then it is not really providing its full value.

  3. Variety: This is the type of data you collect and need to base your decisions on. You may have access to the heart-rate data being collected by your CEO’s Fitbit, but this data isn’t necessarily relevant to your business processes

  4. Accuracy: As the saying goes – garbage in, garbage out. The data you’re collecting has to be uncontaminated data, with anything considered to be noise either deleted or filtered away from view.

What all of this means for tech SMEs will differ from business to business and there may be relatively little interest from most. But a versatility in the terminology and an ability to discuss it (not least with investors) is a must.

Managing Big Data

To manage the massive influx of data, you will likely need to implement a Digital Management Process or at least outsource it to experts. The whole point of collecting the data is to enable intelligent decisions that help your business. You and your company may not be the best people to manage your own data.

A digital management strategy will help you improve your predictive abilities, evaluate your capabilities and capacities, identify key opportunities to save costs or improve value, and predict budget. Information is the new digital gold, and you have the ability to leverage its power.

Paul Blackburn, Executive Chairman of Aston Eyetech, discusses why China is his business’ next step.

It’s a warm day in Beijing and I’m sitting in a Starbucks, watching the world go by. I might look like any tourist on a quick coffee break but really, I’m on a mission.

China is very topical at the moment, particularly following President Xi’s visit to the UK (not to mention that selfie with Sergio Aguerra at Manchester City football ground). The relationship between the UK and China is just starting to develop, and the sentiment within the British population is markedly split.

On the one hand, China is a fast growing economy that presents a lot of exciting growth opportunities for our country. On the other hand, they are a global superpower with a population that vastly outnumbers our own, and many believe that the UK should tread carefully before committing its energy supply and economy to any binding relationship. Personally, I am here because I believe the former.

Beijing at night

[Photo credit: Yiannis Theologos Michellis, Flickr.com]

The day before, I met with the first of two potential joint venture Chinese partners who could potentially help me to turn Aston Eyetech, our Birmingham-based business, into an international eye care service provider. You only need to have a quick look at the numbers to realise what this could mean – despite being considered a “niche” product, Aston Eyetech has over 34,000 potential B2B customers in China. At £5000 a product, even selling 1000 could mean exciting opportunities for the business.

The eye care opportunity in China

In actual fact, I’m on a two-fold mission. The first, you may have gathered, is to kick sand in the face of the nay-sayers and do some business in this huge and fascinating country. The second is to fulfill the objective we set when we were first spun out of Aston University, and safeguard the eyes of the world!

I’m not naïve, and I’m aware of the difficulties. Nevertheless, it’s a shame that, despite all of the current “big” high profile deals announced in the wake of the state visit, both the UKTI (UK Trade & Investment) and the BBC have reported a shortage of SME and medium-sized organisations attempting to do business with China, including those in our own Life and Health Sciences sector.

Our business in particular has real potential to be a disruptive and innovative part of China’s economy. This is because the distribution of eye health care services in China is poor and, despite impressive economic progress, it has one of the world’s lowest rates of cataract operations per million.

China only has 22 ophthalmologists per million of population, compare to the UK which has 200. Perhaps more shockingly, the eye health of young children in China is often neglected by many parents because securing an eye examination at a hospital is tricky, usually involving hour long queues out of the door. Needless to say, this exacerbates potential problems as the children get older. Rural communities in particular still have great difficulty in accessing any sort of health care.

In order to achieve better eye care, you first have to broaden the reach of better eye testing. In China, achieving this requires a different approach, as rural communities will not suddenlly decide to get their eyes tested, no matter how many awareness campaigns you may use. This is for a variety of reasons, be that cost, a worry that the treatment won’t work (or will cause more problems than it solves), or simply because they cannot make the journey. In addition, there is also a worrying shortage of trained professionals for them to go and see.

Eye testing is important as the population ages

The answer to all of these difficulties is highly portable, affordable, robust and accurate eye testing equipment that can be operated with very little training. This is where the vision scientists and bio-medical engineers at Aston come in, with our newly designed modular eye testing system that, I am pleased to say, meets all of these requirements.

We at Aston Eyetech are optimistic about the opportunity available to us in China, not to mention confident of the benefits we can bring to the wellbeing of the population as a whole. With 1.3bn citizens, 320m of whom are over the age of 60, and the largest, fastest growing population of over 80 year-olds in the world, there’s certainly a lot of much needed eye testing to be done!

With all of this in mind, I’m feeling positive about my two-fold mission. I think we will achieve substantial sales, even if we only secure 10% of the market. On a personal level as well, I’m starting to feel increasinlgy confident and ever more determined to be one of the UK SMEs that went for it, and made China the next step in their growth journey.

For more information on the work being done at Aston Eyetech, click here.