Fatherhood brought a new edge to Hugo Macedo’s ambition to make a difference in the world. Now he has the best reason to forge ahead with his ambitious project in a unique sector of medical science.
The birth of Hugo’s daughter three-and-a-half years ago, followed this year by a son, has focused his mind on the urgent need to take strides into the potentially life-changing technology of microfiltration.
“My wife has always been very supportive of my work, but now I have two more important reasons to carry on my research. When my children were born, I promised them I would leave the world a better place than I found it. They have made such an impact, brought out the best in me.”
Hugo’s passion for his work and his family becomes clear within minutes of speaking to him. He is determined to develop his company, Smart Separations, beyond research and into production.
Speaking from his office on Surrey Research Park in Guildford, Hugo shared the speedy rise of the company he set up after leaving the academic world that occupied his early scientific career. He came from Portugal to study at Imperial College, London, on an Erasmus exchange programme and later did a PhD on the creation of human blood in the laboratory, using stem cells from umbilical cords – a subject which continues to absorb him.
“Then I got tired of academia and resigned, with no job or prospects. My girlfriend, now my wife, was amazingly supportive, saying I should follow my dreams. I had six months of savings and started work on my project in the kitchen in April, 2013, developing my work making membranes to use as microfilters in blood processing. It was exciting and I could see there could be potential commercial use for the technology, if only I could get some financial backing.”
A £25,000 grant from the former UK Technology Strategy Board set Hugo on track to further develop the research and he was able to move from the kitchen to a shed in his uncle’s garden, then to his own garage and finally to a room in the chemistry department at the University of Surrey, with the backing of an investor. More grants enabled him to take on PhD students and last year Smart Separations successfully received a f2.8 million grant from the European Commission. It is now occupying a total of 75 sq m on the research park and employs 15 people, expanding up to 21 with student support in the summer break and the addition of contractors.
So what precisely does the company do? Hugo patiently explains the science of creating micropores which can filter molecules to tailored density. When developed, he said, they will be available for use in several technical fields, including blood processing, stem cell research, cancer diagnosis, indoor air purification, wine clarification and the dairy industry. First, Hugo and his team have to complete the research, in the near future he hopes to set up a factory in Portugal to make the filters.
Smart Separations has so far received more than £5 million in grants and other financial support Hugo is pursuing more funding to complete the final technical specifications, before going into production. It’s a hectic, exhilarating time with many meetings to woo potential sponsors – but he always finds time for his family.
“My wife and children are at the core of everything I do,” he says. “I came from humble origins and I am so proud of what I have achieved. I am proud to be living in a society where positive change is coming in so many fields. Together we can make the world a better place.”