Staffordshire start-up set to revolutionise the pharmacy sector thanks to Keele University programme
It was tutor Professor Steve Chapman who spotted the business acumen of Keele pharmacy students Chris Turner and Andrew Bailey and put them in touch with each other.
Initially, the pair were set on a future as pharmacy owners, but diminishing NHS fees and the ubiqutous availability of the healthcare retail ranges that have traditionally topped up pharmacy incomes prompted the pair to think again.
So, on gradaution from Keele University, the budding entrepreneurs turned instead to an online future. Taking space on Keele's Science and Innovation Park, they set up DIMEC Ltd, an online pharmacy, working alongside other start-ups and high growth companies.
As their business developed, the pair realised that scalability rested on working with the pharmacies people trusted, not in competition with them. “We started to imagine an app that put patients in control of repeat prescriptions with fulfilment by traditional pharmacies, all dovetailed into NHS IT systems,” says Chris.
Keele University’s Business Bridge* programme, which supports SME access into the healthcare markets, has been critical for DIMEC’s progression. Like many aspiring entrepreneurs, Chris and Andrew were caught in the trap that they needed to demonstrate the power of their concept to secure the substantial Venture Capital funding they needed to fully develop their idea and take it to market. “Keele’s Business Bridge programme provided £7,000 to develop a functioning and graphically-rich prototype to a level of finish that clinched the deal,” says Andrew.
Armed with VC funding, the pair are now developing their app and working towards a full launch. Navigating the complex and fragmented NHS IT structures and compliance regimes has been challenging, and their inside knowledge of the pharmacy sector has been crucial. The app already works across two of the four main GP systems and adding a third IT platform will soon bring 99% of UK GP surgeries in scope.
With the government driving NHS Digital, DIMEC’s approach fits with the future of NHS service delivery. Besides enabling techncial development, Keele’s Business Bridge has given the DIMEC team time to develop a radical business model in which each pharmacy pays a monthly access fee in return for an increased flow of repeat prescription orders which will generate them NHS prescription fees. Critically, the functionality provides pharmacies with a low cost of transaction and seamless integration with existing systems.
DIMEC have built in touches such as a capability to remind patients to take their medicines and a secure delegation feature which enables carers to order on behalf of patients. It’s been two years of very hard work but, thanks to Business Bridge, Chris and Andrew feel that their innovation is now poised for success.
Keele University’s Business Partnership Manager, Rosi Monkman, said: “Business Bridge aims to help Staffordshire businesses prosper in the heathcare sector and deliver improved patient services and DIMEC are doing both thanks in part to Business Bridge support."
Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent businesses can benefit from a range of specialist support and funding. Interested companies should contact the University’s Business Gateway on 01782 733001 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
*The Business Bridge project (ref: 32R16P00713) is receiving up to £0.6m of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund.