Meet our first tenant Cynaptic. Interview with Simon Wickes

After an intense competition, we’re delighted to announce that the first start-up business joining the Catalyst Centre in September will be Cynaptic, founded by Simon Wickes. We tracked him down, keen to find out more about his business and what he hopes to get out of his Catalyst Centre experience.

What is the idea behind your business and what will it offer?

Cynaptic uses gaming technology to create a new product for stroke sufferers.  With shifts in the demographic of stroke sufferers, which have seen an increase in younger people suffering from strokes, age-old rehab tools are no longer relevant or motivational.

Currently, stroke patients are often reliant on their family unit for help with transport and everyday life but our aim is to help them to be less dependent on a family carer by encouraging them to take ownership of their rehabilitation. With a virtual environment of passing through game levels, patients can do so whilst also being monitored and measured.

The unique selling point of our technology is that it can recognise finger movements alongside hand and body movements, whereas other tools do not track fingers.

What stage is your business at currently?

The business is currently embryonic, newly registered and pre-revenue. After years of working on the idea, we are now ready to develop it into a product.

Why did you decide to apply for the Catalyst Centre?

The Catalyst Centre was first introduced to us when we attended the SETSquared Wessex Health Innovation Workshop.  Here we started to fine tune our ideas and it made us realise that we lacked focus on the momentum of the business.  Whilst the focus was present towards the idea and working on Cynaptic was part of our everyday life, we had other commitments and we didn’t set any time aside for development.

How did the pitch go?

Throughout my career I have done presentations and pitches in varied settings and capacities, from international audiences such as NATO to industry conferences presenting the latest research which I had been undertaking. During my MBA at Henley, a skill which was drilled into us was the ability to deliver short, concise presentations within a limited timeframe, sometimes with just an hour of preparation time.

That said, the pitch for the Catalyst Centre did not go as well as I expected it to or have done before.  The content was delivered exactly how I wanted, however the presenting side was not as confident as I know that I can deliver. My usual confidence was not present and I felt that it was not as slick as I was used to. Anyway, it must have worked as I am now in the Catalyst Centre!

What do you hope to achieve at the Catalyst Centre?

Locating our business in the Catalyst Centre will provide the necessary dedicated time and focus. Access to the site, facilities and business services to support us will give us the motivation to move the business forward. Being in the Catalyst Centre will give us the opportunity to fine-tune our ideas and business processes, moving the idea to a product. We are really looking forward to the mentoring sessions and seminars which will hopefully give us more clarity and direction on how to progress and grow.

We are looking forward to working with the Science Park community and its tenants such as SETSquared, React Communications and Wessex AHSN. In particular, we are looking to Phil Sharpe for his support and advice on our intellectual property which is a gap we have identified in our business. An initial meeting with Phil on our arrival gave us the opportunity to be welcomed into the Catalyst Centre and we benefited from some helpful hints before the seminars begin. Using such networks to our advantage will help us achieve our business aims, grants and technological development.

Where do you see the business in five years’ time?

In five years’ time the ideal is that version 2 of our product will be in the market, the business will be financially secure and we will be looking to sell a successful company. For the company to be scalable, ideally we would like to sell the product to a larger healthcare company which has the distribution logistics and the economies to scale. Our exit strategy is to build the product, create the IP and sell the business.

What were you doing before starting this business?

I started my career as a research scientist for the Ministry of Defence.  I worked in the human sciences department focusing on biomechanics working across both Defence and commercial domains representing the UK on NATO panels. My work focused anywhere between aircrew injury to training celebrities to go to the South Pole or across the Sahara desert. I even got to work with Ben Fogle and James Cracknell,  which was shown on a BBC documentary called on ‘On Thin Ice’.

I then joined Roke Manor, based in Romsey, and was employed to build their healthcare business and grow the company which had limited experience in the healthcare domain. Roke is a world class electronics engineering company that provides contract research, product development and manufacturing for a wide range of UK and international customers. The role consisted of educating engineers and building strategies to take the product out to the customer market. Some people I worked with at Roke Manor are now based at the Science Park so it will be great to see some familiar faces around!

Currently, I am working with the University of Southampton consulting within the health sciences faculty to improve and develop their innovation ecosystem alongside running Cynaptic.

Which entrepreneur do you admire the most?

This is always a tough question for me! Entrepreneurs and their businesses can inspire me for varied reasons: some revolutionise an industry such as Steve Jobs who transformed the music industry and then turned the phone industry into experience over functionality. Michael Dell is another example of an entrepreneur who revolutionised an industry by changing the way PCs are sold through lean construction and low overhead costs. However unlike Apple, Dell over recent years has struggled to adapt to the competitor landscape. Richard Branson is another entrepreneur who I admire with his visionary ideas and the way in which he is willing to challenge the status quo and the big boys of business.