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Product | People | Potential – our chat with Micropore Technologies

Our chat with Dai Hayward, CEO at Micropore Technologies. Micropore has developed a globally award-winning technology which gives the precision of microfluidics at the scale of homogenisation to deliver particle & formulation perfection.

The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with great potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real-talk, while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.

Zoe @ADLIB: Hi Dai, great to meet you! Please can you kick us off with an introduction to yourself and Micropore Technologies?

Dai: Hi my name is Dai Hayward, CEO of Micropore Technologies. Micropore Technologies was founded in the Chemical Engineering department at Loughborough University and migrated to its current premises at the Wilton Centre on Teesside in 2016. We had to re-launch the company in 2016 as we moved with no staff apart from me. I joined the company in 2010 as CEO, and have been with it for 10 and a half years. It has been a wonderful journey in terms of developing a company with an interesting technology and making it work in the marketplace.

Micropore Technologies makes particles and emulsions all at the same size. For example, if you were making an emulsion, the two layers can separate out very easily, as the droplets are all different sizes. What we do is we make all the droplets the same size through a low energy, precision engineered process.

Zoe @ADLIB: Can you share the story behind the origin of Micropore Technologies?

Dai: The company was founded at Loughborough University by a couple of academics in 2003 based on a technology called membrane emulsification that was discovered by a couple of Japanese academics in the 1980s. The technology allows you to make an emulsion, where all the particles are the same size, by using a membrane to make monosized dispersions.

The founders initially thought of using this idea to create a filtration company, but quickly realised that the market was already quite competitive. They did however realise that there was an opportunity for a different approach and that is what gave rise to Micropore. When I joined, we had only one product but a lot of work had been done, at lab scale, with a large number of blue-chip companies to establish the proof of technology across a wide variety of formulated products. However, there was no route from the lab to full-scale manufacturing. The main challenge we had to solve was to get to a point where we could speak to people about offering a genuine manufacturing-scale capability; which is where we are now.

Zoe @ADLIB: Can you share some challenges you have faced when looking for people to join?

Dai: The original employees in the business from 2003 to 2010 were post -docs students who were mainly working for the founding academics, so it was a bootstrapping approach.

With a change of chairman in 2015, we decided to move to Teesside to be able to access suitable seed investment and to tap into a skilled workforce. The move meant that we took none of the personnel with us, so had effectively to relaunch in 2016. While extremely difficult at the time, in retrospect it was probably the best thing to happen. We now have an excellent young team with a great can-do culture who are not afraid to push the boundaries of the technology to deliver excellent customer service.

Zoe @ADLIB: How have you been able to understand and implement the market fit for the service you are offering?

Dai: When trying to create a business around a technology, there’s always a danger of getting carried away by the technology for the technology’s sake, without having a relevance in the marketplace. We looked at the market and identified where the performance of a formulation was important. One clear opportunity was to use our monodispersity to give increased control over the manufacture of sustained release cancer drugs as well as liposomes and lipid nanoparticles for vaccines. Traditional use of homogenisation to make sustained release drugs results in the removal of the oversize and undersize particles and, in doing so, discarding between 30 – 70% of the drug that they have made. Micropore’s approach gives them all the same sized material in an easier and quicker manufacturing process with zero waste. In this way, we can make a significant contribution to some of the UN Sustainable Development goals.

We now have an office in the USA and are establishing a company in India. I am currently in negotiation with a couple of Far East countries to appoint agencies and distributors to continue the growth of the business. We are small in size, but, with exports of 80%+ of turnover, we have the attitude of a global company.

Zoe @ADLIB: What challenges have you had to overcome to create Micropore Technologies?

Dai: The main challenge we have had to overcome was that of scalability so the technology could deliver its full, long-promised potential. We spent a lot of effort developing a scalable manufacturing capability to the point that we now have worked at large scale with a food manufacturer. We offer production capacity for 1 gm/hr all the way up to 1,500 kg/hr.

Zoe @ADLIB: Investment can often be a challenge for start-ups & scale-ups. Do you have any piece of wisdom you could share around best approach?

Dai: When you are a start-up you need money to survive, so it is not a surprise that mismatches with investors routinely happen at this early stage.

It is vital that you take time to identify the characteristics you want in an investor. If someone comes along with a cheque but nothing else, it’s probably not a good investment in the long run.

Especially in a technology business where product and market development timescales can be quite long, you want a patient investor who understands the company and can contribute to the business and the space in which you wish to operate.

Thank you so much for your time.