5 minutes with...Herdis from Microzone

In our regular series, our Community Manager Daisy interviews new arrivals at Sussex Innovation about their business, why they joined, and their plans for growth. Today she chats with Herdis from Microzone.

Can you explain to me what it is that Microzone does?

Microzone makes molecular biology products, mainly for DNA research in and around PCR [polymerase chain reaction], which is a technique for analysing fragments of DNA. That’s where my background lies and so the products we make are based around that technology.

Why did you decide to set up the business?

I was working in this building in 1996 for a company making all of their products…and I thought I either want a stake in the company or I'll do something else. The guy turned me down… I was really taken aback but then he said: "You're going to do this yourself." so that's how it started! I moved out and I set up Microzone in Lewes renting a little office.

Is there any advice that you’d give to someone who’s setting up their own business?

It's all about research…knowing the market, knowing the competition. It's basically a bit like decorating, you don't just go in and start splashing paint on the wall…it's the same with a company. It’s quite easy in a way to make products but if nobody wants to buy them…. I started with very few products, just one or two, then when I went out to see people I would add a product. If I went out and saw people and they were struggling with some technique, I'd go back [and try to solve their problem]. I come from molecular biology, I started as a technician [at the University of Sussex] and then worked my way up to doing a PhD here so yeah, it took me about 10 years but I did it. I never anticipated that I’d end up in a company…

...or running your own company?

Yeah, you never really know what’s around the corner and I like that, that actually helps me. Some people really want everything to be very rigid and planned but I’m always keeping an eye out and I think that helps, that's the beauty of a small company. In a big company you're stuck with the procedures and I often say that to my customers, when you get service, you get it from small companies because they are flexible.

What do you think your biggest success with Microzone has been so far?

Having reliable products that work. I try to minimise the batch-to-batch variation because that can really throw people when they're working in a lab. I know from experience that you sometimes buy something and everything works and then you order it in again and it is like a different product because it hasn't been made with that much care. I think that’s been the biggest thing, consistency of quality. The customers are doing research on the edge, so the products that they buy in can really decide whether they have a successful experiment or not… We did some marketing but it was quite small on the scale of things, I never had a marketing budget.

It's all been word of mouth?

Yes, very early on I was lucky enough to get one of the products into Great Ormond Street [Hospital] in the genetics labs. They're a routine lab, the doctors take some blood samples and they send it for analysis to see which disease the patient has…They churn out data from these samples and that's what they do, they’re not a research lab, so they rely on things to work. I went in with one product but I actually ended up selling them another because that was what would solve lots of their problems. That was in 1998, and they are still buying the same product from us! Also, people that worked in that lab, they would leave and go and work in Birmingham or in York or in Nottingham and they would all take the mixes with them…[People in labs] don't have time to see company reps, they're so busy and overworked, so it was a fluke!

And it's worked out well! As you said, you've already been at the Centre before, you’re one of our newest tenants but also one of our oldest. Why did you decide to come back?

I changed the company in 2016 and the sales side moved to another company which then meant that I had no reason really to go out and see people, you know into universities or hospitals. I started to become quite isolated. I was in a building full of accountants, they were all on the clock, so you couldn't even say "Can we have a cup of coffee?" Also, my husband, who is the other half of Microzone, he retired from his business. He was at home with his feet up and I had to go to Haywards Heath! It was just an idea that popped into my head to see if I could get something closer to home (I live in Brighton). I went through the website and then Simon [Chuter] rang me and we came and had a look at this unit and the rest is history. I also know people on campus, a lot of my old colleagues are still here. Also, being part of [the Centre], it's like a community it really is and it's a really friendly community and you feel that when you walk in. I've been to loads of places and this one has the most friendly approach of all of them.

That's good to hear! So what does the future hold?

I tend to make things up as I go along.

So we don't know?

Yes... you just never really know what’s going to pop up, so to have too stringent a plan, you start to restrict yourself and I don’t need to do that. I'm quite fortunate, I can make things up as I go along!