The Silicon Review
At many leading Universities, the technology transfer staff has three choices when presented with patents or ideas: they may decide not to progress the idea/patent, license it out or form a company. And to provide a viable foundation for a new business requires an invention with a major potential business impact.
Co-Founded in 2010 by an entrepreneur Frank F. Craig, Sphere Fluidics is an established Life Sciences company spun out from the University of Cambridge. The company was set up to use novel microfluidics for single cell analysis for applications in the biopharmaceutical market.
It originally performed technical consultancy as it was an easy way to generate income. However, Frank and the Sphere Fluidics’ team saw a larger global potential in productizing the company’s proprietary technology. And within two years of foundation, Sphere Fluidics launched some consumable products and instruments for mainly the research and academic markets.
Witnessing popularity and industrial customer feedback, the company later designed and developed a fully automated and integrated instrument called Cyto-Mine®. This high-throughput machine does automated screening, imaging, and dispensing of single cells that produce valuable products such as enzymes and biopharmaceuticals.
Today, Sphere Fluidics is one of the leading firms in Life Sciences. It has developed 25 patented products – instruments, biochips and specialist chemicals – which are assisting over 265 customers globally with their research.
In conversation with the Leader of Sphere Fluidics, Frank F. Craig PhD MBA:
Q. How successful was the company’s first project? Share the experience.
Our first major project was a collaborative R&D project with a US-based biotech company. They liked one of our ideas that we were working on with our technology and they decided to fund its conversion to real-world technology. The project was challenging due to its newness and demanding timelines. However, it turned out to be a success and led to another collaboration and a patent licensing deal.
Q. A small business/company may or may not function as expected. It takes everything to stand out and compete in the business world; was it the same for your company?
Yes! Every start-up has challenges in its initial stages due to lack of resource, finance, and management systems. Also, a company can struggle when it matures, internationalizes, and scales up. To establish ourselves, it took a few years, as we had to promote the business at various conferences and via multiple customer visits. However, there is a great degree of satisfaction when you eventually feel that the business has matured and become accepted by its customers.
Q. A small company/business is defined by its core values. What are your company’s core values and how did they help you to succeed?
After operating for a few years, we did not have a clear view of our core values; they were being practiced but were not documented. Later, we decided to bring in an external facilitator to identify our company’s core values in a workshop with all of our staff. And he identified our values as the following: respect, honesty, fairness, clear communication, responsibility and self-awareness.
By having these values clearly identified,we have improved our staff communication, commitment, and performance. We also use these values with our customers, so they help with sales and customer satisfaction.
Q.“Earning trust and respect of customers is through consistent focus on delivering high quality in all of our actions,” how do you interpret this statement?
Customer satisfaction is undoubtedly linked with product or service quality. And we at Sphere Fluidics have a culture of feedback, which is encouraged by our company’s core values. Feedback gives us the opportunities to improve our offerings.
To keep the customer happy and satisfied has been our prime motive, and for that, we always keep our focus on continuous quality improvement in terms of both products and services.
Q. About adaptability, how do you stay relevant to the customer interests and needs in your highly volatile market?
At Sphere Fluidics, we monitor our competition on a monthly basis, which gives us ideas of the entire market and the current trends. We also make sure that we never fail to listen to customer ideas and suggestions because it helps in improving our offerings.
Comprehensive primary market research is another key factor that helps us stay relevant to the market. We perform it before developing any new product to ensure the product is up-to-date and is what the customer truly wants. I believe, with all these processes, Sphere Fluidics is responsive to our current market.
Q. Any company, big or small, must have the sense of authenticity and originality to succeed. Is your company a ‘leader’ or a ‘follower’?
Sphere Fluidics is undoubtedly a leader in innovation. And this claim is backed up by our generation of an outstanding patent portfolio and the multiple technical and business innovation prizes we have won over the years. Our customers and some of our indirect competitors also view us as being a leader in innovation.
The Future Path
Witnessing our growing success in the industry over the years, Sphere Fluidics is currently raising some further investment with a plan to be profitable in 2020 when it believes it will also become more stable and sustainable.
For the near future, Sphere Fluidics has new consumable products ready to be launched later this year. It also has two new instrumentation platforms in development which will also hit the market soon.
Dr. Frank F. Craig, Founder, and CEO: With around 20 years of international, general management experience, Dr. Craig is an entrepreneur who has created several start-up businesses in San Diego (USA) and Cambridge (UK). He was a co-Founder and Vice-President of San Diego-based, Aurora Biosciences. Aurora Biosciences Corporation was worth $3 billion for five years after its founding and a core technology later won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Craig holds a PhD in Cell Biology and Microbiology from Glasgow University and an MBA from Warwick Business School.