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Healing Honey joins with Filemaker: Meet the man behind half of Healthcare's latest Disruptive Duo

EntrepreneurCountry Global Monday, 10 February 2014.

A breakthrough in healthcare, Healing Honey was established in 2011 when former Halfords MD, Ian Staples, was living rather remarkably in Chile on an organic farm. While here, he examined why – despite the seemingly ideal conditions – nectar didn't seem to ferment in the hive. 

Ian StaplesAfter examining how the honey could be processed to 'control its natural antimicrobial qualities', together with his son Stuart, Ian founded Healing Honey and ultimately developed the microbial Surgihoney. This controls the spread of infection, helps with pain control and wound cleaning, and encourages the stimulation of healthy tissue development – and that's only the beginning. Through the use of technology, in particular with the FileMaker platform on the iPad, Healing Honey have been able to introduce the antimicrobial to hospitals both quickly and cheaply. As a result, Surgihoney has now been tested in countries as far-reaching as Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan at less than 10 per cent of the cost of conventional healthcare trials. 

I spoke with Ian to find out more about his intriguing history, what his plans are for the future and just how this project is disrupting the healthcare sector.

Can you speak a little more about FileMaker and how exactly it's disrupting the healthcare sector?

FileMaker transformed our ability to carry out a large number of clinical assessments, not just in the UK, but in some of the poorest parts of the world such as central Africa. It has allowed us to capture complicated medical data - both photographically and in protocol format - very easily and at a fraction of the cost of conventional paper-based systems. The use of iPads and the FileMaker system make the capture of data a fun thing to do, rather than a burden on clinicians, who by their very nature often dislike paperwork. The other massive advantage that FileMaker gives us is that we receive data on a daily basis and can discuss results with clinicians as they help the patient to recover.

Where do you see your collaboration with FileMaker heading over the next 5 years?

We will continue to develop using FileMaker. In fact, it is central to a very large clinical study we are setting up. This study is being designed to confirm what we have already seen in a pilot study: Surgihoney acts as a potent and safe prophylactic to prevent post-surgery topical infections. It is impossible to think of setting up such a study without the use of FileMaker and the ability to use iPads that FileMaker Go gives us. It's now difficult for me to imagine why any clinical study or trial would not walk away from manual, slow, intrusive and cumbersome systems and use a simple, effective and economical system such as FileMaker. It's the equivalent of sticking with the typewriter instead of switching to a computer!

What has been the biggest challenge in this endeavour and how did you overcome it?

Once we realised that our discovery could transform wound care, the task of gaining medical approval of Surgihoney, which involved creating a team of top medical professionals and building the clinical and laboratory evidence – not to mention raising the necessary capital – seemed an impossible challenge. However, we have got there and it all seems to have been relatively easy. What we are clear about is that we have a ground-breaking wound care solution and that our next step is to find an international wound care company to partner and take Surgihoney global. The enormous challenge is to find a company with the entrepreneurial spirit to take on a product that may throw a spanner in their current portfolio of wound infection control products. These are often based on either the potent but toxic halogen, iodine, or the toxic heavy metal, silver, and the jury is still out on its effectiveness.

Can you talk a bit about your transition from a corporate culture to being an entrepreneur?

I don't see it as a transition. I have always set myself unreasonable goals in both my personal and professional life, and then done everything possible to achieve them. Each time I set myself a goal, it carries more risk of failure than success. My previous goals include setting out to get a first class degree; being the first to climb mountain faces in the Hindu Kush in north east Afghanistan without any form of support; becoming chief executive of Halfords; sailing to Patagonia with the objective of following Darwin and Fitzroy to chart those wild waters and produce a navigation guide for small boat cruisers (again done without support and completed very largely by my wife and myself); and of course the development of Surgihoney, which resulted from observing nature in a way that no scientist has done before. Becoming an entrepreneur is not a transition, it's a way of life. Surgihoney is on its way to success and I am now nearer 70 than 60 but my next goal is to play tennis competitively at veteran level. There is a much greater chance of not succeeding than succeeding – therein lies the challenge!

What was the inspiration behind your decision?

The magic moment when we observed that nectar did not ferment when it would be expected to. The huge amount of microbial yeast found in nectar, swimming in a weak solution of simple sugars in a warm environment, did not ferment. Over 5 million years it has not evolved the ability to overcome the natural antimicrobial characteristics of nectar. This was at a time when the world was beginning to talk about the medical antibiotic apocalypse. We realised that if we simply harnessed that which nature had taken millions of years to develop, we could provide a global solution that was simple and effective in tackling complex topical infections. When we saw the first really nasty wound infection being controlled by Surgihoney, and a man's leg being saved as a result, then the inspiration became a passion. There are very few people in life who have a chance to make an impact in the world - we had such an opportunity in our hands.

In your opinion what skills does every entrepreneur need?

Passion, a product or service that sits way out on its own, the ability to make things happen and to excite others, and finally to be opportunistic rather than being over planned. All the development is in new territory - rarely do battle plans survive contact with the enemy. The only thing that matters is not the plan but to win the battle.

What is the best business advice you've been given?

Only do things that you care about and do them in a way of which you feel proud.

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