By bringing the power of lab microscopes into the modern age of portable tech and slick, wireless ease of shareability, Iolight, the startup company founded by Andrew Monk and Richard Williams, has revolutionised microscopy not just in science education, but also in field and lab research.
As Andrew Monk explains, you don’t even have to squint into a lens when you’re using the ioLight, as the digital microscope device transmits images instantly to your tablet or handset, be that an Apple or Android device. The images can be adjusted, captured and shared.
Here, for the uninitiated, is a quick demonstration of the ioLight at work.
ioLight is a crowd-funded initiative established by Andrew Monk and Richard Williams that, within just two years, has solved the dilemma for scientists of choosing between a powerful microscope and a device that fits in the pocket. With ioLight, the crux is swept away, as the ioLight is as powerful as a lab microscope but as portable as a mobile phone.
12 Questions for Andrew Monk, ioLight
Andrew Monk cleared some time in his schedule to answer AGENT’s questions about his startup story and his business inspirations and challenges. While it has taken him 50 years to fulfil his dream of running his own business, his maturity has given him an edge in the world of science and tech. “What do I never leave home without? My ears!” Andrew Monk reveals. “I get lots of advice from all sorts of people and it’s really important to listen.”
1. Briefly tell us about your business and your business goals.
ioLight has developed the world’s first pocket microscope with the performance of a lab microscope. Our microscope delivers beautiful 1 micron resolution images and videos onto your tablet or phone for discussion and simple sharing. Early adopters include Cambridge and Exeter Universities, Bayer, The Eden Project and the Medical Research Council and several vets and schools.
Scientists, engineers, educators and vets no longer have to choose between a powerful microscope and something that fits in their pocket. The ioLight microscope gives them both.
ioLight is crowd funded, so our goal is to build a rapidly growing successful company that we can sell to the benefit of our shareholders. We are also passionate about connecting the public to science, so we want to ensure that our microscope goes on doing this for years to come.
2. What age were you when you realised you wanted to run your own business?
That was about when I stopped wanting to be an astronaut. It just took me 50 years and a lot of adventures to get there.
3. Who are your business icons and inspirations?
I don’t have icons. There are several successful and ethical entrepreneurs that I admire, but nobody is perfect, so I prefer to learn from everyone I meet.
4. What has been your biggest challenge in business, and how did you surmount it?
In a start-up the biggest problem is the next one: You climb a mountain and what do you see? Another mountain! Probably our biggest achievement to date is getting a robust hardware product onto the market in two years, which is unusual in the UK. Our next big challenge is helping customers to understand how much they can save by carrying out much of their work in the field rather than the lab.
5. What gives you the most satisfaction in business?
Seeing people that do not consider themselves scientists wonder at nature. Our microscope appeals to people of all ages and I love the way that you no longer have to wear a white coat to look at your own cells.
6. Work-Life balance: is it possible? How do you achieve it?
It is essential. A start-up is very hard work and many of my family and friends are involved in ioLight, whether as investors or my 13 year old daughter, selling microscopes at science shows. When I was young, we used to work 5 days a week from 9 to 5, but running your own business means you have more flexibility. So I often work at weekends, but then I also love taking my son to his piano lesson on a Wednesday.
7. What is the first thing you do every day?
Check the order book.
8. What screen saver picture is currently on your phone?
Currently it’s a beautiful microscope image of some onion epithelial cells. The ioLight microscope makes it so easy to capture beautiful images that we always have a good supply of interesting screen savers.
9. What is the most important app on your mobile phone, and why?
The ioLight app. It connects instantly to the microscope and captures images and videos that are simple to share.
10. What is the last thing you Googled?
The website for ioLight’s pension provider. It is now compulsory in the UK to offer employees a pension, even though the two founders are our only employees. Red tape is a constant burden to start-ups.
11. What item do you never leave the house without, and why?
My ears. I get lots of advice from all sorts of people and it is really important to listen and learn from people who have been in similar businesses, so that at least you make different mistakes from those they made.
12. What advice would you give to your younger self starting out in business?
Listen to advice but trust in your own judgement. Advisors and experts may have been successful with other companies in different times and places, but your team is the only one that understands your business.
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