Some markets have more hurdles to get over than others. If you have a scientific product idea, perhaps in health, medical equipment, food & nutrition or veterinary you can succeed in building a business if you plan well and cover all the relevant requirements.
You need to bear in mind that there is an increasingly wariness of pseudo-scientific claims. People want innovative products while only trusting what they know and understand! It’s a tricky balancing act. Inevitably it takes time, as well as rigorous research and testing, to build the necessary trust.
After many years of such research and testing my company, Tharos™, launched Equinectar®, an enzyme-enriched feed supplement for performance racehorses.
Getting the science right though to raising investment has been a significant challenge, so here are some pointers based on our experience.
- Be open to interesting ideas
Ideas and inspiration can come from the most unexpected sources. I was speaking to a journalist about irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in humans, my area of focus at the time. He asked if horses suffer from IBS. I didn’t know, so I decided to investigate. I found that horses do suffer from IBS-like symptoms.
It was only by looking at horses specifically that I got the inkling that some conditions, such as IBS, may be caused by undigested starch fermenting in the large intestine. I reasoned that we could improve the digestion of starch by increasing the levels of amylase – an enzyme that breaks down carbohydrates into sugars – and less fermentation would occur in the intestine.
This began our journey. My advice would be to be to look out for interesting ideas, explore the existing research and see what you find. Meet people in different areas of expertise. Crossover points often bring insight and can inspire the development of something new.
- Prioritise the science
The problem with many so-called scientific products is that they’re based on old wives’ tales. Real, solid science and clear evidence is essential. If you focus on building a company rather than getting the science right you are, to use an appropriate idiom, putting the cart before the horse. You need money to get credible scientific proof, so concentrate on that. Don’t spend it elsewhere unless you really have to, or you’ll risk running out of cash.
We were very mindful not to fall into this trap. Instead, we focused our initial investment and resources on working with some of the best specialist gut health scientists in the UK and abroad. We ran studies with a number of universities and other research institutions.
By building up a body of scientific evidence we have managed to gain greater buy-in from investors, helping us to gain more scientific backing. This led us to a position where we were confident in our products’ efficacy and had a wealth of evidence to prove it. Then we could build the wider team to launch the product to market.
- Build Credibility
Despite focusing on science, it’s still difficult to convince people of your product’s efficacy. We were a new company targeting the racehorse industry – a sector not well known for its incorruptibility. People were sceptical, especially given the significance of our results. The way we tackled this particular challenge was twofold: by working with well-respected vets and stables, and by writing and publishing papers in peer-reviewed journals.
Fortunately, the performance equine market is quite niche. We could run a presentation to vets and trainers in Newmarket, tapping into the most influential horse-racing market in one fell swoop.
We began ad-hoc trials of the product in stables and demonstrated improvements in performance and overall condition of the horses over five years, providing first-hand experience to influential market leaders.
Secondly, we wrote and published articles in peer-reviewed journals which helped us build credibility for the science.
Start with a small market where you can reach the right people. Let them see the product in action and take part in trials. Focus your writing on peer-reviewed journals for the sector. By starting with a smaller group you can gain traction faster, and then expand. If you aim too widely, you’ll need a lot of money to gain any sort of awareness and traction. So, focus on one area at a time.
- Get help with patents
Particularly tricky was dealing with patents for our product. We needed the evidence before we were confident in applying for the patents, but we needed patents before we could publish any details.
So, while we were publishing in journals, we had to be very careful about what we included. Giving away our ‘special sauce’ in published papers would mean it was in the public domain and invalidate our patent applications.
My advice is to hire a good patent lawyer to help you write your patents in order to expedite the process and to advise you on what you can and can’t include in your published research.
- Understand regulatory requirements
Every product, and especially a scientific product, needs to pass certain regulatory requirements. Medical products take the longest to process. Fortunately, Equinectar® is classified as a food supplement rather than a medical product, so the regulations are less heavy.
Regulatory approval takes time. Knowing what regulatory framework your product will fall into and how long the process should take, will help you manage your cash flow until you are approved.
This may also affect your choice of ingredients. Everything within Equinectar® is included on the Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) list, making it easier to gain regulatory approval from BETA and NOPS. If you are using any prohibited or novel ingredients in your product it could take much longer to gain approval. Consider this at the development stage.
Top Tip: the single most important area when bringing a scientific product to market is cash. A great deal of money will be needed to pay for specialist studies, product development, regulatory approval, patents, lawyers, etc. And you’ll need to support yourself and your team throughout.
Not surprisingly many scientific products fail due to funding issue. Give planning and managing your cashflow constant attention!
ABOUT PROF JOHN HUNTER
Professor Hunter is founder of Tharos, an equine health company. He was a Consultant Physician at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, Visiting Professor of Medicine at Cranfield University, and is a recognised authority on diseases of the gut, including Crohn’s disease, colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Professor Hunter has published books in this field and contributed over 150 research papers to major medical journals. He has also been a consultant to international companies including Shell, Unilever, Nutricia, Quest International and Marlow Foods.
Invest in Tharos on Envestry: https://tharos.envestry.com/deals/1983
Tharos is a science-led health company focused on animal digestive health, malfermentation, and the gut microbiome. Following four years of ground-breaking research into equine digestion, Tharos has developed pioneering diet management products that bestow significant health, condition, and performance benefits for horses.
Diet and digestion are key issues for performance horses and their management. Tharos presents a compelling opportunity to horse professionals worldwide. Tharos is a member of the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA).
EquiNectar® is an equine dietary supplement that helps maintain normal body function and improves condition by promoting an optimal gut microflora.
- promotes optimal digestion of carbohydrates in the small intestine
- prevents overspill of undigested carbohydrates into the large bowel
- balances the horse’s biochemistry by reducing endotoxicity
- restores and maintains the horse’s microbiome to ensure a healthy gut
- improves performance and condition through improved feed conversion to energy