|Drs Oriane Chausiaux and Shamus Husheer, of Cambridge Temperature Concepts, with three children born as a result of women using the DuoFertility monitor.|
Most entrepreneurs care deeply about their businesses but they’re not usually reduced to tears by a successful sale.
For Oriane Chausiaux, of Cambridge Temperature Concepts, which provides fertility monitoring for couples struggling to have a baby, the early successes of the business had as much emotional impact as financial.
“After the thirtieth pregnancy I managed to stop crying when I heard the news,” says Dr Chausiaux.
The company makes a monitor called DuoFertility. This is a small sensor worn by a woman under her armpit, which sends signals about body temperature and sleep patterns throughout the day and night to an analytics centre in Cambridge, using wireless technology. These signals build up a picture about when she is most fertile, because the presence of different hormones affects body temperature. Users can call up the centre at any time to discuss the results with a fertility expert.
The device is not cheap – it sells for about £500 in the UK, through the company’s website and Boots online, but includes all the analytics and communications with the company, which offers a guaranteed refund to women who don’t fall pregnant within 12 months.
The price is cheap compared to IVF treatment, which costs between £5,000 and £7,000 per cycle in the UK.
The monitor is only suitable for couples who don’t have medical issues that mean IVF is the only way they could conceive but, because about a third of patients who have IVF in the UK suffer from “unexplained infertility”, there is still a large market to go for, says Dr Shamus Husheer, chief executive.
The monitor had an unconventional birth. It was the brainchild of Dr Husheer when he was a nuclear and structural chemistry PhD student, working in a particle accelerator in France. He was inspired by the difficulty his parents had in conceiving him and by new battery technology which generated power from the body.
He recruited Dr Chausiaux, who is now the head scientist, and four other Cambridge PhD students to help him build a prototype and come up with a business plan. What they developed was a medical device that, in its first form, was “a shoebox full of electronics which you strapped to your body”.
The idea won the scientists £1,000 and then £20,000 in competitions run by Cambridge University. They used the money to pay for filing a patent and building a prototype. At the end of 2007, they raised £250,000 from angel investors in the Cambridge area, to develop the DuoFertility monitor.
Even when they were still at the shoebox stage, they were contacted by couples wanting to pay to have a monitor built for them. Dr Chausiaux says: “That showed us the need really was there.”
Dr Husheer adds: “We also didn’t appreciate how huge the mental and psychological side was when we started off. The couples were always on the phone to us to talk about their condition and we realised we were providing a service that was not available to them anywhere else.”
After being screened to check their fertility issues are within the limits the monitor can help with, Cambridge Temperature Concepts says couples who use it for six months have the same chance of getting pregnant as someone of the same age on a cycle of IVF.
While growth in the past four years has been “spiky”, Dr Husheer admits, the firm now has 2,000 customers and expects turnover to rise to £2.5m in 2012-13.
However, growing through UK retail has been slower and trickier than the pair anticipated and the founders are in the middle of a £1m fund-raising to help to pay for plans to expand in the US. They are hoping that American doctors will recommend the product to patients.
The opportunity in the US, where a cycle of IVF can cost as much as $20,000 (£12,500), is an order of magnitude greater than in the UK, Dr Husheer says. “We believe there are 400,000 women in the US a year for whom our product is the right thing.”
However, there is also a new opportunity in the UK – the company has been accepted for a trial by the NHS, with the same guarantee that it will reimburse the health service after a year if the patient does not fall pregnant.
“There’s a push into payment for outcomes by the Department of Health, so we’re ticking the political boxes too,” says Dr Husheer.
Since the first fund-raising from angel investors, they have raised money “a couple” more times the same way, although they still own just over 50pc of the company. “The main things we need to finance now are some people with deep commercial experience in the US, and staff in the UK to do the fertility analysis,” says Dr Husheer.
The company hopes to be able to provide the same level of support as it does now for 10,000 people after this round of hiring. All the analytics staff will be based in Cambridge, in large part hired from the town’s universities.
The DuoFertility monitor has gained the approval of the US medical regulator, the FDA, and the company is marketing it to the obstetricians and gynaecologists American women typically visit rather than GPs.
“Our experience with the FDA was not nearly as bad as some of the rumours suggest,” said Dr Husheer. “They seemed pretty responsive to us because our device is non-invasive and we have a lot of field data from using it in Europe.”
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