Full-Time MBA Students, Benjamin Kirk and Matthew Thompson, have progressed to the finals of the WE Innovate @ Imperial programme with their start-up Hermone, perimenopause monitoring technology.
The programme is open to female students at Imperial College and aims to inspire women entrepreneurs. Benjamin and Matthew have teamed-up with Rhiannon Leyden Preece and Rebecca Steele, two Systems and Synthetic Biology Postgraduate Research students at Imperial College London.
Ben and Matthew met Rhiannon and Rebecca at the WE Innovate launch event where they found out about their synthetic biology testing technology. They formed a team and began brainstorming applications for the technology together.
Understanding the problem
The team decided to utilise the technology for hormonal measurement however, they needed to focus the idea. They used methods they learned on the MBA to help them fully articulate the problem and confirm their area of focus, including theory from their Design Thinking and Innovative Problem Solving modules. Ben and Matthew said they learnt a lot from their fantastic Design Thinking lecturer, Dr Ileana Stigliani, about empathetic thinking and connecting directly with customers to better understand the problem. Matthew said:
We got there through customer interviews. Initially we thought every woman would want to track their hormones like you track your steps, your diet and your sleep schedule. Our Design Thinking module has taught us to really analyse the problem.
The team refined their focus to perimenopause; the period of time leading up to the menopause where hormonal shifts can cause hot flushes, sleep disturbance, irregular periods and mood swings. This market presents an opportunity to provide much needed help. Ben said:
This is a massively underserved market and there is a huge opportunity to help. Our research highlighted that the cost to society is £340 million a year in the UK through a lack of diagnosis for women entering the menopause. There are also huge long-term health implications including osteoporosis, mental health issues and heart disease, which can develop if women do not realise their symptoms are connected to entering menopause and are left untreated.
From here, Hermone was born, biosensor testing strips that will link to an app on your phone to monitor hormone levels of women in perimenopause. Over time, the app will be able to give a very indicative representation of hormone levels over an extended period.
Throughout the WE Innovate programme, the team have been able to finesse their business idea through workshops and access to high calibre business coaches, especially Janet Murray. Rhiannon and Rebecca also have connections to SynbiCITE, an organisation that helps to commercialise science start-ups, which has been extremely valuable for the project.
Both Ben and Matthew chose to study their Full-Time MBA at the Business School because of the programme’s focus on entrepreneurship and the access to the College’s world-class science departments.
With Ben’s background in finance and Matthew’s background as a biomedical engineer, the two have formed a great duo. Paired with Rhiannon and Rebecca, the team is the perfect blend of science and business. Ben said:
Rhiannon and Rebecca are super talented in their field. Matthew and I are aspiring entrepreneurs and we really want to make it happen. This blend of business and science has worked really well.
However, like any start-up, the team have encountered challenges with their project. Ben said their biggest challenge they are coming to grips with is ensuring they are developing a product that people don’t know they need:
If you ask someone if they want something they will say yes. It’s not until people start using it and realise they can’t then live without it that true value is realised and you have created a sustainable business. It’s very, very hard to prove that you have something people want until they start using it and realise its value.
WE Innovate and beyond the finals
For the WE Innovate finals on 20 March 2018, the pitch focuses on commercialisation. The team have been trying to nail their business plan and clarify the value Hermone is adding.
£15,000 will be awarded for first prize and a further £15,000 second prize will be split between 2nd and 3rd (judge’s choice). The team would use the prize money to develop a prototype for Hermone.
Looking beyond WE Innovate, the team would like to create their prototype and have a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) done by early 2020. They also have plans in the future to utilise their technology to assist in monitoring hormones during puberty, for contraceptive pill users, and believe their technology will be valuable to women with irregular cycles who are trying to conceive. Watch this space and we wish them all the luck for the finals!