It Takes a Vision and a Community to Build a Reality

22 Feb 2019

So, what happens when you are faced with redundancy and the chips are falling around you and your colleagues?  Well, if you are Charles Pollock, you think strategically, have a long- term vision and take on a multinational company at its own game!

The result was the birth of GS Biotech, a company specialising in the design and manufacture of CO2 incubators and the supply of its spare parts.  The incubator is used to grow and maintain microbiological cultures or cell cultures in an optimal temperature and humidity, taking into account CO2 and oxygen content in the atmosphere. These incubators are used in laboratories in various institutions and organisations.

It was a risky step for Charles but a very wise one as GS Biotech is now supplying incubators to UK and global markets.

When New Brunswick Scientific, an American supplier of biological shakers, was bought over by Eppendorf, a global life science company in 2007, the former’s Irvine site was not in Eppendorf’s future plans.  This particular branch specialised in spare parts for CO2 products and when they closed the company down in 2014, Charles re-started the spare parts business from scratch.

Due to his 30-plus years as an engineer in the sector, Charles was able to work with suppliers and distributors to ensure that they sold parts to a global customer base including Eppendorf themselves.  

While building up the business, Charles worked in the business singlehandedly using his own funds. In 2016, he employed two further engineers with the help of a wage subsidy from North Ayrshire Council and then decided the time was right to seek investment.  Not one to leave out his friends, he turned to his ex-colleagues who believed in his vision and invested in the business for shares in the company.

However, Charles realised that spare parts alone could not sustain a successful business and he decided that the bigger vision was in the design and manufacture of CO2 incubators.  He decided to approach his friends once again and 15 of them, including Charles, raised £50,000 in investment.  He then engaged his Business Adviser at North Ayrshire Council (NAC) and Business Loans Scotland who helped him with funding towards business strategy implementation.  After regular meetings NAC approved a grant contribution towards the business’ capital purchases and software.

In the meantime, Charles also accessed support from Scottish Enterprise (SE) who helped get GS Biotech a grant for product development and prototyping.

It all seems like a distant memory as GS Biotech is now in full production of a silver and gold standard range of CO2 incubators since their official launch in November 2017. To assist with the marketing of this global product, Business Loans Scotland and North Ayrshire Council supported their participation at the Lab Innovations Exhibition in Birmingham while Scottish Development International (SDI) supported their attendance at a trade fair in Dubai. SDI also helped them set up global distributor networks through its international marketing support.

To date, GS Biotech have supplied standard and custom made incubators to prestigious universities, hospitals and laboratories in countries such as Spain, Italy, Poland, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Switzerland and Greece. In the UK alone, they have supplied incubators to Kings College London, Manchester University, Imperial College London, Newcastle University, University College London, Southampton University, Bristol University and Newcastle University. The list is growing and it has only been a year since production!

As Charles says, “it’s not a revolution, it’s just an evolution.”  Phasing his business reasonably and with thought is definitely crucial to its growth. Peter Robinson, the Sales Director and the core staff of four made up of shareholders, are key to the development of the business and its markets.

Looking towards 2019, in order to ramp up production, reduce costs and quicken delivery times, the manufacture of the chambers needs to be done in-house.  This has prompted a further phase of investment to purchase necessary tooling.  This will allow a four-fold increase in manufacturing and quality as well as create much needed surplus stock.

The future is definitely looking bright and as Charles indicates, “We are looking to employ another four engineers within the next two years.  We aren’t intimidated by Brexit as we are hopeful it will help us increase sales in the UK.  At the end of the day our ethos remains the same as it was from the beginning – ask the customers what they want, give them a personalised approach as well as keep the pricing keen but above all, give them a high quality product.”

With the rate of development in the last year, Business Loans Scotland (BLS) has been a great help to the business at a crucial time.  BLS match- funded the £50,000 of shareholders’ investment and the finance was used for working capital. Charles explains, North Ayrshire Council’s “Team North Ayrshire” approach was very good and extremely supportive through the loan process. “I knew that if I dealt with the Council, it would be done.  Without the support of BLS and North Ayrshire Council, we would have been floundering. We may have been moving forward but I am sure we wouldn’t be where are now.”

It would seem the beginnings and the continued success of GS Biotech is a perfect example of not just the sheer determination, knowledge and hard work of its leader but also of the integrated support it has received from the government bodies, enterprise agencies and funders that have helped this Irvine Company fully realise its growth potential.

Speaking of the loan awarded, Fund Manager of Business Loans Scotland, Andrew Dickson said:

“I am absolutely delighted that Business Loans Scotland has been able to support GS Biotech. I wish them well in growing their business and look forward to watching them develop and flourish. I am also delighted that Business Loans Scotland has been appointed as one of the Fund Managers under the Scottish Growth Scheme and look forward to being able to support many more Scottish businesses, like GS Biotech, access debt finance.”