Faculty in Focus - Humanities
Founder: Alex Kingston
Pandemic-inspired business on a mission to eradicate single-use PPE
MEC: Thanks for talking to us Alex and sharing your enterprise journey. Would you mind introducing yourself and telling us more about your business?
Alex: My pandemic-inspired business is called Kingston Medical Equipment and Garments. In a nutshell: we are trying to solve the problem of single use PPE. We’re based in Cardiff, have been trading for a year and we’re expecting to be handling our first orders by the start of 2023.
In 2020 I graduated from the School of Social Sciences at The University of Manchester with an LLB Law and Politics degree but I realised I didn’t want to be a lawyer. Sitting at home I asked myself what do I want to do with my life?
I remember watching the news during the pandemic and seeing stories about the PPE crisis in the NHS. I thought there could be a business that tackled some of the supply chain problems.
Through research, I found a UK supplier of a spray coating with the capability to make any material bacteria and virus resistant. Using their product, and conducting our own research and development, we discovered that when you launder the item, with the spray coating on, it retains 95% of that resistance for up to 50 washes.
We’re starting with face masks and lab coats but it could be used on lots of medical supplies including gloves, surgical gowns and aprons.
Our reusable PPE saves money, is better for the environment and because we’re UK-based solves logistical and order fulfilment issues removing the reliance on sourcing from other countries.
We’re about to embark on a pilot project with Cardiff University and Cardiff and Vale University Health Board where they will be trialling 10 to 15 reusable lab coats and face masks. This will give us real life feedback and we expect our products to be on the market in the next 12 months. Within two years we will have expanded the range and within three years we’ll be able to export UK-made rolls of this spray coated material overseas to developing world places like Africa. The aim is to have own production facility in Wales.
There are lots of sectors where our products could be useful including social services, care homes, labs and hospitals and the wider medicare sector.
We’re well known in the Medtech sector in Wales and we were delighted to be shortlisted for Medtech Start Up of the Year in the 2021 Wales Start Up Awards last year.
MEC: How did you discover MEC and what were your initial impressions?
Alex: It all started with the student support centre because they wanted to know what I was doing next after I graduated in 2020. I said I was going to try and start a business and once the University found out about my idea, straight away they wanted to help. The student support centre said the best place to start was at the MEC and that’s where our discussion began.
From the point where I said to MEC that I want to start a business and I have some ideas, they didn’t just suddenly believe in me. There was a long process of preparation and me doing research on my own first. Is my idea even possible? Scalable? Viable? It was a good stress test and that gave me motivation.
If MEC hadn’t been there to challenge my business I could have been sitting there for another two years without doing anything about it. It was a positive experience; it was like Dragons’ Den from the beginning. If MEC didn’t believe in me then I wouldn’t be able to convince anyone else, equity firms etc.
MEC asked: do you really want to do this? MEC really had to believe that I was dedicated to this business and it was actually going to lead to something. It was a really good process to go through.
MEC: Tell us about how your entrepreneurship skills have developed over the course of your time here.
Alex: There were two things: being more organised and being more adaptive. There are lots of moving parts in a business especially a business like mine in manufacturing. You have to think about import and expert, legal and accounting.
In the first six to eight months the business was riding this hype wave of Covid and demand for PPE and then suddenly everything changed which is outside of our control. Then you’re in a position where you’re still running around trying to convince people that they need reusable masks, well, when they probably don’t.
We had to look at the latest market research and see what the trends were and try to adapt to them. So that’s when we went back to the same people, such as councils, universities and hospitals, and they had a completely different idea as to what they wanted.
Being adaptive doesn’t mean you have to change your whole business structure or the whole product. We’re not doing anything other than what we promised to do one year ago - it’s exactly the same thing – but we are taking a different path to it. We only considered the NHS as customers, and then suddenly universities came in and they said: “we use a lot of lab coats so why don’t you come to us and sell us lab coats?”.
Another example of where we’ve been adaptive is with workers who visit elderly people in their homes and need a nurse’s scrub-type protective outfit. We said we can make you a nurse’s scrub and we are more than happy to supply them. That’s the kind of adaptation I mean: we saw different market opportunities and we never considered selling to other countries and then suddenly there are other countries that are more interested in what we’re doing.
MEC: What were the pivotal shifts in your thinking or behaviours along the way?
Alex: We had to embrace the change of markets and change of demand. The whole belief and the whole approach to the problems we were trying to solve changed.
MEC: How did MEC help you with any challenges or obstacles?
Alex: They helped us financially when we were awarded a £2,000 Kickstarter grant and that was a great initial boost. We spent it on our IT system, social media, registration of the company, setting up the company’s official bank account and paying accountants. Then some of it went into attending very big EXPOs and marketing for award ceremonies.
There is still some money left and it’s going to be spent on a real-life project that we’re currently working on with Cardiff University because I would need to provide them with a few lab coats and masks so that remaining money is there in case I need to cover some immediate cost of manufacturing.
MEC organised a lot of webinars and workshops which included finance, accounting, pitching and presentation skills and everything was useful. There were also a lot of competitions so that’s given us market exposure as well as being on everyone’s mind and they can see our brand all over social media.
We got shortlisted for the 2022 Venture Further Business Start-up Competition (Environment Category).
MEC were always available to offer advice; I didn’t use it, but if I ever needed advice I knew could have contacted them.
MEC: What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone at the beginning of their journey?
Just be creative. Try to test all sorts of solutions and avenues out of any idea, you eventually have to adapt and you have to make sure you are flexible. So the more creative you are at the beginning the more incredible ideas you can find. You have to be as crazy with your ideas as possible because you will start to realise what’s possible and what’s not. Your creativity will help you to adapt in the future.Alex Kingston / Founder, Kingston Medical Equipment and Garments
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