Inspiration can strike at any time and throughout history there are many examples of great ideas being scribbled on a random scrap of paper – from economic concepts to hit song lyrics.
R&B singer Richard Berry captured the initial outline of Louie, Louie on a piece of toilet paper, while Abraham Lincoln sketched out his historic Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope. For Mike Casey, founder of FutureNova, a napkin was the first thing that came to hand during his ‘Eureka’ moment.
During a press interview back in 2010, the former NHS director was asked what was preventing the then-brand new iPad being used in healthcare and Mike grabbed a serviette to illustrate his answer.
“I drew it on a napkin and afterwards put it away somewhere, but that sparked the idea,” he said. “I then went slowly forward with it, carefully built a prototype and rang around my buddies to ask whether they would buy it. I had some very interesting feedback.”
The problem with iPads was that tablets were not suitable for use in operating theatres and infection control wards, where sterility needs to be strictly maintained. As a chief information officer in the NHS, Mike could see how the use of tablets could transform the way hospitals work and improve efficiency.
This year FutureNova launched the FlipPad, the first medical grade iPad case. The FlipPad is made from Food and Drug Administration approved materials that make it waterproof, shockproof and capable of being kept sterile with standard infection control sprays. Mike believes the new product will make a huge difference to efficiency within hospitals.
“We want to mobilise clinicians so we need to give them mobile tech,” Mike explained. “When I had the idea hospitals were still buying mobile carts called ‘computers on wheels’, or COWs. The problem with those is that people had to wait for other staff to finish using the COW before they can get onto it to order blood, or whatever and this was a challenge for them. What clinicians needed was for information to be given to them as soon as it was available.
“Working in hospitals, I noticed that there were things that were dislocating the process. Hospitals are a bit like a production line – they are there to take in sick people and put out well people. If they can’t get a pathology result at 4pm, they can’t discharge that patient and so they have to stay overnight. I heard lots of stories about information not being in front of clinicians when they needed it and operations being cancelled, and so on.”
Mike believed that tablets were the future and with more hospitals introducing Wi-Fi, he set to work with the help of staff at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.
“I worked in the hospital for nine months – I was designing ideas and the infection control nurses would come by and say ‘you need this and you need that’,” Mike said. “It was designed by pencil. The rotary handle on the back of the case was created with the input of people working in neonatal intensive care. It needed to hang on a bed so that staff could work on patients hands-free, but it couldn’t have a hook or anything that breached infection control. It took about a year’s worth of design, with a series of notes from me to the designers that all seemed ‘no, it can’t be like that’, until eventually I said ‘yes’. The product looks really simple but it took ages to get that far.”
Pre-launch, the FlipPad had already attracted about 500 orders from hospitals that FutureNova had not even approached yet. The product officially launched at the end of September 2015, at Liverpool’s Infection Prevention Show and it was an immediate hit with healthcare professionals.
“We had nurses trying to take our prototype off the stand, so I had to hold onto it with a vice-like grip because they wanted to walk away with it,” Mike recalled with a laugh. “We did some outbound marketing before the show and about half of the people we approached said they’d come and take a look. When they did, they said, ‘this is good’.”
FutureNova has won the blessing of Apple and now has a development licence from the global technology giant. Mike has created a company to act as a distributor in the US and he has plans to work with Apple on other accessories, while developing his own ideas.
“There’s nothing like having a £500 billion company keeping its eye on you!” Mike said. “But Apple like what we do and we presented a road map to them to keep in line with what they’re doing. They came out with the iPad Pro, and the Laser Pen will come to market, so I wanted to check that we weren’t conflicting with them, but they were fine with what we’re doing.”
Mike is now designing a laser pen device designed for the “super mobile doctor” – small enough to tuck into a lapel, the pen will enable doctors to transmit medical grade images to other professionals.
“Say someone burns their hand on a chip pan and goes into A&E – there are two types of burn they could have,” Mike explained. “One type can be administered to by a junior doctor in A&E, while the other would require the patient to be admitted for intensive treatment, and that decision needs to be made by a plastic surgeon. If you’re a junior doctor and you’re not sure, you would admit the patient to be safe, only perhaps to have a consultant say the next day that it wasn’t necessary. With the pen, an image of the burn could be transmitted to the plastic surgeon wherever they are, so they can make the call. With a burn, the quicker someone gets onto repairing it, the quicker the burn heals and the better the scars will be. Whenever I design something, I’m always thinking of the patient first; if it saves the hospital money as a secondary effect, that’s great.”
Based at a site in Essex that is connected to the clinical network in the East of England, FutureNova recently secured £500,000 seed capital to launch the venture and set up sales operations at Discovery Park in Thanet, Kent. This included equity and loan investments from Kent County Council’s Expansion East Kent, the Low Carbon Innovation Fund and NCL Innovation’s investors, along with grants from Innovate UK. Currently the FlipPad is manufactured in Manchester, but Mike is considering getting the product fabricated in Kent.
“The current factory can produce 3,000 per month comfortably, but when we hit that mark a duplicate factory in Kent could take it up to 10,000,” Mike said. “If we were to have orders from a big hospital in Ottawa, for example, they have 3,000 iPads. If you’re going to sell in the American market, you need to be prepared to deal with orders in magnitude.
“Kent invested in my company and I believe that should be returned. I want the product to be made in Britain. We’re good at inventing things and building things here, but we’re not good at selling them. I want to change that perception.”