Like many overseas students, Neciah Dorh arrived in Bristol with few contacts in the city and no particular plans for sticking around.
Fast forward 10 years and a doctorate from The University of Bristol, he is now an established entrepreneur and TED speaker, working alongside his wife and business partner, Josephine, in developing state of the art technologies that can detect harmful bacteria in just minutes rather than days.
Enterprise Europe Network, funded by Innovate UK and delivered by Business West, is helping Neciah take the next critical steps towards commercialisation, and we caught up with him to find out how he got to this point and how he’s coping with 2020.
“Bristol came about from an answered prayer,” he says. “I come from a family where pretty much everyone owns their own business and I spent many summers working for my brother's and sister’s firms, so I just wanted to give myself as much opportunity as possible.”
Neciah secured a full scholarship from the Saint Lucian government to enrol anywhere in the world and studied up to post-doc at The University of Bristol, researching faster new ways to detect Hospital-Acquired Infections.
Here, he identified the problem that would lead him to found FluoretiQ:
“The issue is that we only have 20 minutes to sit down with our doctor, but right now correctly diagnosing bacterial infection test will take two days. So we set our sights on reducing that down to just 15 minutes, enabling clinicians to select more targeted anti-biotic therapies to combat the rise of superbugs.”
Leaving university, Neciah had the theoretical principles in place for rapidly detecting bacteria, but actually building a prototype would be quite another matter. Fortunately, he had already met and married his fellow student, Josephine, and she stepped in as CTO to develop the hardware.
“Before co-founding FluoretiQ, Josephine went back to her home country, Cameroon, and worked for an oil and gas company there,” says Neciah. “It’s a very intense industry to work in; she’d often be home from work at 11pm and back in at 6am, and that’s the kind of discipline you need to drive research in this space. She spent a year working around the clock on no pay developing the process and prototype for our product.”
In February 2020, Neciah was introduced to Enterprise Europe Network Advisor, Natalie Collard, who began helping FluoretiQ towards commercialisation.
“It feels like I’ve known Natalie longer than February, we speak so often! She’s just passionate about helping businesses and has provided so much useful advice on things like communication and grant funding, as well as collaboration opportunities with businesses overseas.”
Natalie began by assisting FluoretiQ onto the Global Business Innovation Programme (GBIP) which kicked-off with a workshop on communicating value propositions.
“We’ve since been getting lots of good feedback about the clarity of our messaging; it’s helped us look for collaboration partners and also enabled us to win best start-up pitch at an international event; BIOCOM 4th annual AMR conference 2020.”
Funding was next raised as a focus area and Natalie introduced Ben Masheder, our Funding and Finance expert.
“Ben’s great,” says Neciah, “you send him a draft funding application and within a few hours he’s sent some comments back that will take it to the next level.”
With Ben’s help, FluoretiQ recently secured an Innovate UK Scholars Secondment grant to bring in a highly-qualified post-doc researcher from the University of Bristol for 18 months.
“We’re quite thrilled to have that extra support and can move towards engineering-intensive final designs of the point of care solution. We can then move on to clinical evaluation with key opinion leaders, independents and of course the NHS. That will be our focus over the next 12-18 months.”
To help achieve this next step, Neciah will be applying for an Innovate UK Biomedical Catalyst grant with a helping hand from Ben.
We asked Neciah how his business has coped with Covid; “I really must commend our team,” he says, “their efforts in keeping things going has been exemplary. We had two patents filed during lockdown which is extraordinary, they’ve been working tremendously hard.”
“Natalie too was very hands on when lockdown came in, finding every possible way to ensure the businesses she supports survive.”
We asked what has been most beneficial about the support received.
“It’s that longitude of continued support that’s so valuable. Natalie listens to what our vision is and finds the opportunities that we wouldn’t otherwise have spotted.”
Coming up, EEN will be supporting FluoretiQ with an audit of their Intellectual Property (IP), helping them raise private investment and continued work in identifying suitable grants and business and collaboration opportunities.
For more information on how EEN can support your business, speak to our advisors and check out Innovate 2021, our autumn event series on meeting current challenges and building for growth.