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From Engineer to Entrepreneur

By Ian Graham - Posted on 30 April 2020

With the world currently focusing on hygiene and stopping the spread of disease – namely with Covid-19 – Strathclyde alumnus Ian Graham details how his business enterprise will be playing its part. 

It’s curious how coincidence can play such a huge part in your life or your business. You could make a business contact, or even find your life partner, in the most unexpected of circumstances. After years of work and fruitless attempts to build some interest, I find it intriguing that it’s taken the current Coronavirus crisis to raise awareness of the importance of hygiene standards and infection protection. Coincidentally, the development of my new product now allows me to step forward and offer some small help to society during this horrific pandemic. 

Years of my kitchen table development work has resulted in an elegant product solution that will allow people to use door handles in public facilities without fearing the risk of infection. The Axiene door handle was designed as a modern, funky looking product that functions to keeps the touch surface continually protected with an anti-microbial fluid. This ensures that any germs from dirty hands are instantly killed and that the Axiene handle is always safe for the next user. 

I started my Glasgow based company, Glana Ltd, to develop the concept from its early stages into a product ready for market launch. However, it wasn’t wholly an entrepreneurial business spirit that drove me, my background in engineering, curiosity and the challenge of developing a useful product was my initial motivation. 

I studied Mechanical Engineering and Business Management at the University of Strathclyde, graduating, an age ago, in 1997 with a first class Honours and winning the top of year Frederic Barnes Waldron prize. After a number of years in industry managing multi-million-pound Engineering and Construction projects in the power sector and becoming a Fellow of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, I returned to the Strathclyde fold to seek advice on the support available for my new product and business start-up. 

From my initial discussions with the Strathclyde Entrepreneurial Network (SEN) it was clear that the level of support was more apt than alternatives, specifically targeting higher potential businesses and, of course, helping Strathclyders. The direction and the introduction to the Enterprise Solutions project has been absolutely invaluable to me and although my career provided great business experience, the contacts and sounding board offered by Strathclyde Business School’s Enterprise Solutions has been a real benefit in moving my business and product towards market launch stage. 

At this pre-launch stage of the business, I am still driving forward on my own but Enterprise Solutions graciously offered help from University student groups who helped with marketing, funding and highly technical chemistry issues. Strathclyde Business School students from the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship delivered a consultancy project focused on new venture management, strategy and growth with a specific emphasis on identifying market opportunity and point of market entry. 

Working with the students in this way is a win-win as students gain real-life project experience and understanding of business needs and values, and I gain specific assistance targeted to my own needs. The level of advice and encouragement from SEN and Enterprise Solutions helped me to realise that the product that I had spent years developing has a tangible and significant commercial potential and even greater value to society, especially in light of the current global emergency. 

The coincidence of timing has been key in helping to focus attention on my new product, and the emergence of the Coronavirus has encouraged me to complete the final stages of development urgently. With many people now becoming aware of the serious risks of hygiene issues that I have been peddling for years, my product will potentially move from an SME niche offering to become a mainstream product, justifying the encouragement of the University in my business plans. 

It has taken a lot of work and perseverance to end up with a simple design that performs so well and provides the protection that everybody needs. With the few remaining design issues now being concluded through my design partner, local SME, Filament PD, I’m now fully engaging with the supply chain to finalise the production and retail routes. As I continue discussions with potential customers, I’m delighted to find a much more receptive audience as everyone now looks to improve their infection protection and reduce risk for all. 

I’m hopeful of seeing Axiene installed in many premises soon and more hopeful that this product will have a positive impact on peoples’ lives. I’d ask, when you see or use one, that you tell people that they are safer thanks to Glana Ltd and to the University of Strathclyde. Axiene will be available for pre-order from May 2020 at www.axiene.com 




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