The Problem and solution
Currently, the food industry spends £100 million a year on testing surface hygiene and there is only one viable method of on-the-spot testing. By offering a cost-per-test of just 30 pence, Fresh Check can save the industry 50–80
per cent of their hygiene audit costs.
We developed Fresh Check after being inspired by our colleagues who won the Cross-CDT Dragon’s Den (now Collab_) competition. We wanted to find a solution to a problem that we all faced – expensive food spoiling after its use-by date. We had often eaten chicken that was past its use-by date and decided we wanted to find a better way of testing food safety. The smart use-by date we developed was ultimately unsuccessful because of the razor-thin profit margins in the food industry, but the core colour change technology still worked, and we ultimately developed it into the spray we have today.
The team met in the summer of 2013, all colleagues on the same PhD course. John and Rob actually lived together before we started work on Fresh Check! Most of our advisors are industry contacts we have met through investors or at formal networking events. We met our major advisor, food hygiene expert Dr Lisa Ackerley, after spending a long time researching the field. Her name came up incredibly often and she was very willing to help out, so it only made sense to make her a formal advisor. The events and programmes hosted by the Enterprise Lab have been essential, particularly before we secured funding.
We gained crucial exposure and ultimately met our primary investor through the Imperial Innovations events we spoke at. The six-week Venture Catalyst Challenge is the most important training course we’ve done. Before this, we’d had no experience running a business and no idea what might be expected of us, so we’re immensely grateful for the training we received. We have received our pre-seed funding and are currently working to get industry approval for our most sensitive spray. Once we’ve got the testing complete and have begun to build some sales, we’re going to start developing a range of new products that address even more of the issues the hygiene industry faces.
Successes and setbacks
Our most notable successes so far have been:
- Securing funding – It really did feel like a huge achievement when we managed to prove the value of our idea to other people and they gave us money so we could start working on it full time.
- Developing a product that has started to turn heads – It was very exciting to have made a product that people were talking and getting enthusiastic about, to the extent that they started coming to us.
- Being recognised by an international community for the work we’ve done – It still doesn’t feel quite real that we were featured on the Forbes 30-under-30 list in 2017, but we’re all tremendously proud!
Despite these successes, there have been a few setbacks along the way, including:
- Not being able to work on Fresh Check full time – When we founded Fresh Check we were all PhD students and had to spend a lot of time on our studies and research. Although that was unavoidable, it was pretty clear when we started working on the company full time that working only evenings and weekends had held us up.
- Cash flow – At times we simply didn’t have enough money to cover the cost of development, or wages, or both. It’s a common issue with many startups, and everything gets easier if you’ve got a bit of money behind you.
- Defining the market – This was probably our biggest setback. Once we’d set our sights on releasing our spray bottle we had to delve into the food manufacturing industry. This industry is relatively secretive; a lot of information is closely guarded and there are many gatekeepers. It took finding an advisor who was well respected and known in the industry to really start opening doors.
Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs
There’s a lot of specific advice we could give to anyone starting their own business, but one of the overarching things is perseverance There are so many ups and downs, moments where it all feels close to reality and moments where you question whether you should continue. But if you have a genuinely useful idea, then sticking at it through those low points will pay off eventually.