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Product | People | Potential – our chat with Zedsen

We caught up with Ewan Lister, Managing Director at Zedsen as part of ‘Product | People | Potential’. Zedsen’s proprietary, non-invasive sensor aims to change the current paradigm of health and oncological care for the better. They are committed to addressing the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s “Triple Aim” for optimising healthcare systems, by enhancing the quality of care, improving the health of the overall patient population, and decreasing the cost of healthcare per capita.

The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with grand 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.

Marta @ ADLIB: Can you please introduce yourself, what your business does, what stage you are at currently and what makes your business and offering unique?  

Ewan: Hi, I’m Ewan, the managing director of Zedsen, and my background is in the field of electronic engineering. I completed my Bachelor’s degree at Paisley College of Technology (now the University of the West of Scotland) and have spent a significant portion of my career as a consultant providing design services across a range of technical sectors. It was in my capacity as a consultant that I first become involved with Zedsen based upon my previous experience in the medical sector. This experience included three years as the managing director of a company creating MRI equipment and two consulting engagements I’d previously completed, one based upon the creation of a portable blood analysis device and the other around the creation of a medical device for the treat of haemorrhoids. 

I first began working with Zedsen in July 2020 to assist them with improving the overall measurement reliability of their sensor and I was immediately interested in the underlying concepts of using electrical fields to probe the biological construction of an object. At the beginning of 2021 Zedsen proposed to go to market with a lifestyle product aimed at detecting a collection of biomarkers while continuing to refine the technology with the aim of creating a medical grade version for FDA approval. I was invited to join the company as the Head of Hardware Engineering at that time so decided to come onboard. 

Over the summer of 2021 we spent a significant amount of time exploring the limits of the sensor technology and began to develop more sophisticated simulation models of the underlying physics. In October 2021 the decision was made to exploring the field of oncology where Zedsen had previously demonstrated a prototype system for the detection of breast cancer funded by a UK Innovate grant. As part of that grant funded research Zedsen had already previously establish that our non-invasive sensing techniques were able to discriminate between normal breast tissue and cancerous lesions. With the focus on the creation of a medical device, and based upon my previous experience, I was asked to take over the day to day running of the company as the managing director.  

Today Zedsen is focused upon creating a novel imaging device for use in the field of breast cancer detection and screening based upon analysis of the electrical properties of the breast tissue. Our device is built upon or patented technology that applies electrical field and interprets the measured outputs to allow us create a tomographic map of the breast construction to allow us to identify cancerous lesions. 

In order to achieve regulatory approval for this device we need to conduct a series of human study trails to demonstrate the diagnostic efficacy in addition to further developing our in-silico simulations and phantom testing.  We are currently working with a number of partners on the simulation and phantom studies with the device and we have recently started working with one of the country’s leading university hospitals for the first detailed trial of the equipment on human subject, which we hope to begin in the Q4 of 2022. 

Marta @ ADLIB: Can you share the story behind the origin of your business and Service / Product?  

Ewan: The Zedsen sensor was originally invented by Dr Hrand Mamigonians who discovered the utility of the approach while investigate the creation of a sensor for a different application. Dr Mamigonians then formed Zedsen with three other founders to exploit this novel sensor technology.  

As I previously mentioned Zedsen received a UK Innovate grant to investigate the use of the sensor in the detection of breast cancer which led to the creation of a prototype system and the conduction of a small informal trial of the device with a patient that was known to suffer from breast cancer. 

The core research and simulation work that we had been conducting over the summer of 2021 combined with the research undertaken by our Head of Clinical Science has led us to believe that the Zedsen sensor offers us a very real chance of creating a new method of breast imaging. This method will provide additional information to the existing modalities used in this field without many of the disadvantages associated with current devices. This additional information may even extend to the ability to discern between malignant and benign lesions without recourse to a biopsy. 

Our initial human trials scheduled to commence in Q4 of 2022 this will enable us to refine our product and to better identify where it would most effectively be deployed within the clinical care pathway.  

For me this is a really exciting opportunity as the potential benefits of our approach over existing methods of screening a diagnosing breast cancer are significant. And while breast cancer is the first area we have chosen to tackle, we believe there are many more opportunities with oncology that could benefit from Zedsen’s technology. 

Marta @ ADLIB: Speaking of People, can you share some challenges you have faced, are facing or are anticipating around scaling and growing your team? Do you have any top tips you could share with those businesses faced with the same issues? 

Ewan: Hiring the correct talent is difficult and the current climate is certainly not making it any easier. At Zedsen we are always looking for people that at going to fit with our culture and this is a hugely important factor. We are also very proud of our record on diversity and it is something that we do consider as part of our hiring process. As a technology base company, we require people that are at extremely skilled in their field. What we are trying to do is hard and some of the skills we require are extremely niche. This means that we have to look to recruit from anywhere across the globe because the UK talent pool is too small. I’m sure this is a problem faced by many companies within the UK at the moment and regardless of your political persuasion the UK’s departure from the EU has made recruitment of talent more difficult. 

The advice I would give in this area is don’t underestimate how much time this process can take. When you’re busy it is easy to be put off by the amount of work recruitment takes; but keep it as a priority. The people you recruit become your company so to be the best you need to recruit the best, don’t accept lesser quality candidates based upon expediency, it’s always better to spend more time to find the right individual. If you need a skill urgently then consider using consultants or external resources while you continue to look for the right candidate. 

Marta @ ADLIB: Moving to Product, what has been your approach to understanding and implementing product market fit or sales cycles?  

Ewan: For use at the moment, we don’t know where we are going to sit within the clinical care pathway so while we have a very good idea of our costs compared to other imaging modalities, we’ve had to build a variety of business models based upon different use cases. Similarly, we have created a number of possible ‘go to market’ approaches to test the business case. As our trial data begins to validate the use case within the clinical care pathway, we will continue to refine these business plans and models. These models are also heavily influenced by the different care models around the globe, for example in the UK you are dealing with the NHS compared to North America where there is a much more open market for medical devices. 

Marta @ ADLIB: And then Potential, can you share some challenges or barriers you had to overcome to create a Product / Service offering with potential? 

Ewan: The decision to move to oncology has had a profound impact on the processes we have previously used within Zedsen. We are now looking to become a medical device company and this entails a completely new approach to regulatory compliance. We are fortunate enough to have within our team a Quality Assurance and Regulatory Affairs Manager who has experience of taking start-ups through the steps to achieve ISO13485 compliance which is a real asset. We are also now looking to recruit talent that has previously worked within the medical device field as part of our growth plan.  

On top of this, as I previously mentioned, what we are trying to do is hard so there are numerous technical challenges that we face every day. At Zedsen we are fortunate that the team are fully committed to the company’s mission and every day we are overcoming challenges and barriers.  

The opportunity to have a profound impact on the life outcomes of so many people is a great motivator. 

Marta @ 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? 

Ewan: We are fortunate enough to have been funded so far by a group of high-net-worth individuals. The piece of advice I would suggest is remember your investors will want to see that you are focused on delivering what you promised when you promised it. Investors will want to do due diligence ahead of any investment so make sure you keep clear and concise records of everything you do and all agreements you undertake.   

It’s important to factor in your business needs into any fundraising decisions you make. For example; are you funding the runway until a certain period of time, or are you funding to a certain milestone completion? Following on from this you should also factor in future fundraising opportunities and when will be the right time to approach VCs. Finally, it’s important to find the right balance between how much money you want to raise vs. how much the company is valued at vs how much of the company you are willing to give in return for the investment.