THE TIMES: BUSINESS INSIGHT
Strathclyde University spin-out company Cutitronics has taken just two years to attract world-leading cosmetic brands and engage them with its products
Occasionally the greatest ideas don’t come from identifying that lucrative but elusive gap in a market; some are dependent on having the skills to see that the market has a yawning chasm to be filled.
That has been the ground-breaking story of Cutitronics, a company that spun-out of Strathclyde University in January 2014 and now, not much more than two years later, is advancing agreements with the world’s global cosmetic brands.
Cutitronics founder and CEO, Dr David Heath
Cutitronics founder and CEO is Dr David Heath, who previously worked at Strathclyde University and now leads an expert team developing an innovative skincare industry product that is made for the future of how we engage with the world – on a much more personalised basis. What they have achieved is something that exists physically and digitally. The physical product is an intelligent applicator for skincare products. In a three-step process, it first measures the user’s skin health. It then stimulates the skin to absorb the product much more readily. Finally, depending on the information provided by the analysis, it dispenses the correct amount of the cream.
The digital element can be best described as a “FitBit” for skincare, where users can track the results and improvement in their skin health through use of the intelligent applicator.
Commercial Director Wilma McDaniel says that the companies she has demonstrated the product to have described it as “phenomenal” and “game-changing”.
As with many leading-edge products, this was born out of a problem faced by the skincare industry, says Dr David Heath who had a particular research interest in technology and biomedical engineering during his time at Strathclyde University.
“I attended a conference on skincare to present research. However, as happens at these events I watched the presentations from other delegates. It was eye-opening for me – like having the whole skincare industry served up on a silver platter.
“It was clear that if I adapted technology that I was already involved in for the skincare industry, I could address their needs much more rapidly than the bottom line research.”
Dr Heath applied for an Enterprise Fellowship with the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which is co-funded by Scottish Enterprise. This gave him a year where he could independently explore the possibility of taking this knowledge and expertise to form a company.
“At the end of that year I decided that there was a market for this technology. The next stage was a Scottish Enterprise- funded SMART feasibility study, to evidence that we could translate this technology to meet the needs of customers. In parallel, we had to engage with customers and make sure the technology met their needs. And most importantly, this was also the time for growing the team.”
Through a ByDesign grant from Scottish Enterprise, Wilma McDaniel was recruited, bringing with her 20 years of experience with premium skincare companies, including 10 years at senior levels with Estee Lauder Companies Inc.
This deep understanding of the industry was vital and Wilma’s ability to connect with the visionaries within each of the companies she presented to was key in communicating what the new technology would deliver for the brands as well as the consumer.
“Since the ByDesign grant and Wilma’s involvement, the commercial development really accelerated,” adds Dr Heath. “The level of customer engagement, identifying the right customers and getting to the key decision makers – that path has shortened considerably.
“The amount of ground that we’ve covered since the grant has been incredible. I only now realise how long it would have taken or how far we’d have to go without it. It really has been quite impactful.”
Jim Watson, Senior Director of Innovation and Enterprise at Scottish Enterprise says that the type of innovative shown by Cutitronics is the key to competitiveness in any market now.
“The way you create a competitive advantage is through ideas, but importantly, through bringing them to market. Innovation and creativity is going to be your differentiator. If you can innovate successfully and build it into the culture of your organisation, you’re going to outstrip your competitors and grow your business.
This B2B aspect of Cutitronics is important. The applicator is manufactured and white labeled to allow it to be seamlessly integrated with the skincare brand simplifying the user experience.
The different skincare products will be sold in cartridges that fit within the intelligent applicator rather than in the tubs and pots we all recognise, allowing automated and intelligent control of the entire skincare routine.
“The technology isn’t product-specific, so it will enhance any product that it is partnered with. We will be initially focusing on anti-ageing and facial skincare products addressing lines and wrinkles, skin tone and texture.”
The choice of skincare products is bewildering: for face and body, for night and day use, and many with new active ingredients that need to be used correctly to achieve the best results. If manufacturers can be sure that the customer is using the product as they should, there’s a much greater chance of quick and significant improvements. Finding a product that works for the consumer is finding a product that will be bought repeatedly. If the intelligent applicator can help the customer use the product for optimum results then customer retention is much more likely to follow.
“As creams become more advanced, there can be different kinds of active ingredients,” adds Dr Heath. “It can be a challenge for the manufacturers to trust consumers to use them properly. If they are overused, then they could have a detrimental effect; over-exfoliating the skin for example. The intelligent applicator takes the guesswork out of the process.”
Wilma McDaniel is coming back into the industry after a few years out and sees that it is now “a crowded space with customer confusion”. This applicator is a way to reconnect the manufacturer and customer, providing an absolutely unique service to every individual.
“When I came in to the company it was a case of developing a partnership with the market. Skincare companies spend millions on Research and Development and I could bring that understanding and a knowledge of the market to the team.
“Now we are the stage we have NDAs in place with some brands. These are all instantly recognisable global brands. So we’re at the next stage of integrating our technology with theirs.”
This is something of a revolution, but as Dr Heath explains it will also bring a manufacturing bonus to Scotland.
“The digital service will be hosted here of course, but when it comes to the physical product, we are talking about high-value, high-volume manufacturing, which we can do here in Scotland. “We’ve already pulled the technology together and evidenced it. We’re now able to talk to our customers and say, ‘this is the future of skincare’.”