Developing a Business Concept: How We Helped Dust Canary
We love helping businesses develop business concepts and development projects and turning them into workable realities.
We sat down with tech start up business owner, Will Averdieck at Dust Canary, to discuss his experiences, how we helped develop his business concept and tips for future product managers out there.
1. Where did the idea for Dust Canary come from?
William: I was fortunate to have the option to license low-impedance sampling technology from DSTL (Defense Science Technology Lab) at Porton Down.
I engaged with an old Professor with whom I had previously done collaborative research work at the University of Hertfordshire. UOH had developed a compact sampler prototype for DSTL; for soldiers to wear going out into a war zone which would enable them to be able to understand if personnel were being exposed to bioaerosols. They were looking for partners to develop the products further and I saw this and the opportunity in Health and Safety monitoring as a good platform for starting a business.
2. What is your background and field?
Trained as a chartered mechanical engineer, my career has been in industrial instrumentation. I started and ran a business called PCME ltd a specialist in particle emissions monitoring from industrial chimneys, for 25 years, so measuring particles was something that I knew about. It has been a very interesting journey since then learning about health and safety issues, the specifics of that market and the similarities and differences with environmental monitoring.
3. How long has Dust Canary been going now?
William: I worked with UOH and DSTL for one year where we de-risked the technology. Then about a year ago, I engaged with Jon because I was very keen to take it from just tech. I could see what we were doing, we were developing innovative prototypes, but we needed to develop products that would be simple to use in the real world.
I was looking for someone who could really help me with the mechanical engineering design which could be tooled for large volume production, and who had the experience of what worked in real world applications. The last year, we moved from tech development into product development and Jon has really added value in relation to that.
4. How did you first hear of Jon and Cambridge Design Technology?
William: I found Cambridge Design Technology (CDT) through a web search and began to read some of Jon’s previous work.
Our product had been developed as a laboratory prototype so it needed to be made a lot more robust for commercial and military use. Jon had previously completed work for the police force with radios, so I was always really impressed, as this was also wearable and robust.
Once I saw that he was based in Cambridge and Suffolk, which is the area where I am based. I thought ‘I must meet Jon’ and as soon as I met him, his experience came through.
5. Were you looking at other design companies the same time? What made CDT stand out from competitors?
William: I had been working with a young engineer; he is a wonderful practical and innovative designer. We would try things and we would go down a few false alleys but with Jon, he knew which alleys not to go down immediately, which made the whole thing more efficient. His experience really came through.
6. What were your biggest design problems and how did CDT help?
William: We had the internals working but one of the things I needed help with was the external enclosure. The look and the feel of the product is now vastly different and improved thanks to the modeling and design work that Jon did.
Together we created something which worked really well, so subsequently we made a second product with Jon. This second time, Jon’s designs have worked even better with Jon’s early involvement in the instrument’s skeleton design
7. What do you think have been the biggest benefits of working with Jon?
Jon breaks things down into manageable chunks. We produce concept work; looking at three or four different concepts which we will pick a final one which can be tweaked.
We then go into design mode, which is implemented as 3D prints in first prototypes, then vacuum injection moulded parts for early production models; we’re not as far as doing the tooling, but that is a plan over the next six months. But it works well in stages meaning we are de-risking things as we go.
8. What makes Dust Canary unique from other Wearables in the market?
William: It’s to do with the size, weight, and ergonomics. There are other portable dust monitors that workers can wear around a plant, as part of a one-off survey for example. But their size does not work for an industrial worker to wear every day to protect themselves from warnings of increased dust.
That is where we are unique. The technology we had from DSTL addressed the size and the weight issues, the ergonomics and the packaging came from Jon, which has worked brilliantly.
9. Are you receiving a lot of positive feedback from the market?
William: We have been to a number of trade shows in the past 15 months; A&A in Germany, H&S event at the NEC and Sustainability Health at Farnborough and every time we go out and show industry what we do, we get really positive responses
Our challenge is to create market awareness, to let others know what we are doing. Moving into marketing communications is our next project for the year ahead.
Another challenge is that we are slightly ahead of legislation. Legislation requires someone to take a sample once a year so we are trying to find organizations committed to the ongoing daily safety of their workforce and minimise exposure rather than just show compliance.
10. What are the most important aspects to you when building partnerships and working with Designers such as CDT?
William: Jon understands priorities and some of the compromises that are still required in business. He is very pragmatic. I always come out of a meeting with Jon wiser than when I went in. He is an ideas person but also quite practical, I enjoy working with him and he’s a nice person.
We are in startup mode, so we need to be flexible and work within the constraints of a tight budget, and he gets that, which is great.
11. It all sounds incredibly positive. Will you continue to work with Jon on anything else in the future?
William: We will yes. The next three months will be full on working, but then it will be a little less intense as we take the product to market. But I am certain it will be an ongoing relationship with Jon. Product development never stops, there are always tweaks and there is always something to learn.
12. What advice would you give to others who are just starting out as a startup? What lessons have you learnt?
William: I would say be focused on the market and learning from lead customers. Also, you need to be enthusiastic and positive but also realistic about timescales since time is cash. Planning product development is important to keep the process efficient but also flexing from the plan as and when opportunities arise. Finally, have fun!