Talk about having skin in the game. The lightbulb moment came to David Heath at a skincare conference.
“What I learned on that day was that, at the time, the personal skin care industry was focused solely on making advances based on formulation and chemistry,” says the biomedical engineer. “It was just looking at improving the ingredients to improve its products. I also learned that nobody knew how consumers used these complex manufactured products when they took them home, and consumers didn’t always know how to use them correctly. And I thought, ‘this is madness’.”
Heath saw there was an opportunity to take a leaf out of the medical playbook where, for example, diabetes patients are treated using a combination of drugs, smart devices and data.
Having spotted the gap, Heath spun Cutitronics out of the University of Strathclyde in 2014. “It wasn’t an academic or clinical project, this was a commercial project to create a holistic solution.”
Cutitronics technology wraps together diagnostics and dispense control technologies with the Internet of Things, together with an app that gathers all the data and helps people adhere to their skincare regime.
The result: a technology that will be white-labelled for the personal care, health and wellness industries, allowing brands to connect directly with their customers by offering personalised advice based on the individual’s unique skincare requirements in real time. Cutitronics is focused on facial skincare products including serums, oils and moisturisers, whose biologically active ingredients build up over time, where up to 12-16 weeks is required to achieve optimal results and where a user’s adherence to the regime is vital.
Over the six years, a number of institutions have supported Cutitronics’ journey, including the University of Strathclyde, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Royal Academy of Engineering and London Stock Exchange ELITE.
An early award from the Royal Academy of Engineering was followed by a key introduction to the FTSE-100 chemicals manufacturer Croda, who became a strategic investment partner in the young business. “They are selling to the same customers we are seeking to partner with, so they have a deep understanding of the market. There was great synergy but no competition. They have been an excellent company to work with and provided phenomenal support – it’s the extra value beyond the cash that made the difference!” He adds that he is “always on the lookout for complementary strategic partnerships, perhaps in the digital retail or skincare industry. There is just so much value in the right collaboration.”
The Royal Academy of Engineering also introduced Heath to ELITE. “The education, speakers and introductions through the ELITE network have all been of high quality and very beneficial to the business,” says Heath.
This was to be the year of the first major customer trials but the impact of Covid was to delay them.
Project plans suffered, too. “It was so frustrating,” he says. “We had a piece of kit on a supplier’s bench, a day away from being shipped to us, and we could not pick it up. And it was integral to our plans. If lockdown had happened a day later, we could have taken delivery of it.”
But there were also positives. With spas and salons closed, professional skin care brands had lost their physical point of contact with customers. They needed to reach out to them beyond these spaces. And, while they were unable to run their daily business, the industry did have more time to talk with Cutitronics. “It has scaled our opportunity,” says Heath, “as we are now creating a direct to consumer channel for those brands. Before Covid, we had thought it would take three years to get there but now… it’s now!”
“This year we have had so much input and consultation about the customer journey. The trials that we are running this side of Covid are very different to the ones before.”
In 2021, Cutitronics will be putting flags firmly into other markets, opening up access to its technology with major corporations and independent brands in the UK, the EU and the US. The first step has been to open an office in that capital of cosmetics, Paris.
The workforce currently stands at 25, boasting experience from corporations and industries as diverse as the space industry, Apple, MasterCard, Dyson, Plexus, Jabil, GCHQ and Estée Lauder. “We have been very fortunate with the skill set that we assembled but it is still difficult to fill some posts.” However, he adds, “Covid is releasing more people into the marketplace.” He would like the company to remain physical and local in East Kilbride; “we are very multi-disciplinary so we have had an open plan, collaborative office – and I would like to keep that.”