WHEN Doctor Chenna Rajagopal wanted to develop his pioneering business, he turned to Business Durham for help.
And the economic development arm of Durham County Council came up with answer to his needs through the Durham Future Innovation Building Programme (DFIB).
Dr Rajagopal runs a business called Affotek – based at the North East Technology Park (NETPark) at Sedgefield – using technology to create medical solutions that are both more affordable and less disruptive to people’s lives.
Originally from India, Dr Rajagopal trained in the UK and worked as a Consultant Paediatrician at Catterick Military Hospital, while also providing cover at The Friarage Hospital, in Northallerton, and occasionally at Darlington Memorial Hospital.
He increasingly saw the potential for portable and wearable medical devices and, prompted by the mother of a child with severe epilepsy, he invented a medical device to monitor the brain and detect seizure.
Patented in this country and Germany, the technology uses photonic sensors to detect a person’s well-being. Determined to develop the product – and others – he launched Affotek but quickly realised he needed expert help to take his ideas forward.
“Technology, especially for health, doesn’t need to be expensive and I could see areas where my devices could be used to help people to be looked after in the community rather than hospital, but I needed support to realise the potential of the devices,” he said.
That support came through DFIB, which aims to create a culture where innovation is accessible to all businesses regardless of their size. Companies are given opportunities to collaborate and learn from industry experts.
The focus is on three key growth sectors in County Durham: construction, ‘Elec-tech’ – electronics, electrical and embedded software – and health. That made it the perfect programme for Dr Rajagopal’s needs and he has reaped the benefits.
He was given expert help in analysing his business in depth, creating a portfolio of products, and advice on how to employ people to produce them. He was introduced to the Engineering and Manufacturing Network – North-East, and that connected him to businesses that could help manufacture the equipment.
He was also given expert guidance in producing a document to be presented to Challenge North East, which led to £5,000 grant.
The DFIB programme also includes masterclasses and workshops to support further ideas, define needs, and help entrepreneurs understand the different applications in which they can innovate.
For example, Dr Rajagopal attended design and architecture workshops that examined how the design of buildings can complement technology to boost health.
“Nine months ago, I felt despondent because I didn’t feel my business was making progress, but now it’s looking far better and I feel very encouraged,” he said.
He is now developing wearable devices in other areas of medicine, such as the continuous detection of blood pressure, and air quality.
“Business Durham was superb in helping me to get further support and identify funding sources. There is a real culture of support and encouragement,” he said. “I definitely have a lot to be thankful for and I would whole-heartedly recommend Business Durham for the benefits they can bring to your business – my message is don’t hesitate to get in touch.”
Sarah Slaven, managing director of Business Durham, said: “Innovators can sometimes have great ideas, but they are not always able to research and develop products for a variety of reasons. We recognise the importance in helping businesses overcome these challenges, which is why we launched the Durham Future Innovation Building programme.
“Affotek is a perfect example of the type of company DFIB was set up to help. Dr Rajagopal has many years’ experience in the healthcare sector and has identified exciting new ways of improving the technology available and making it more affordable.”
- Businesses can apply for two grants…
- The Innovation Research and Development grant is worth between £10,000 and £50,000, based on 50 per cent match funding from the business.
- The Innovation Capacity grant can be used to contribute £6,250 towards a salary for six months of innovation expertise.
- The Durham Future Innovation Building programme is a two-and-a-half-year programme funded by the European Regional Development Fund (EDRF) for SMEs running up until July 2023.
Find out more: www.businessdurham.co.uk/dfib