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Failure is just part of the recipe for success

Tue, 08 August 2017

Contributed by Alex Bond co-founder of Fresh Check UK.
At Fresh Check, we’ve developed a technology that can warn people about health risks with a simple blue to orange colour change. We’re starting to get some good traction now, but Fresh Check wasn’t the first entrepreneurial project I was involved in. In fact, my first project I started with one of my Fresh Check co-founders – Robert Peach. We were working on educational games – a way for people to learn whilst having fun. It seemed simple, and my brother (who does this for a living!) came on board to help us out with game design. Rob and I were experts in our field of science, how could we go wrong trying to teach people that in a fun way?
We failed. After we’d assembled our team everything seemed destined to come true, but we had rose-tinted goggles. The team was split over a number of cities and countries, so naturally it was easiest for my colleague Rob and I to work on it because we see a lot of each other. However, we had no experience in coding or developing a game. Even though the ideas kept coming about how to develop the game and get people interested, we were never able to turn it into anything substantial or keep the whole team motivated with a sense of progression. My brother was even ready to join us as a game designer but without the programmers or artists he needed working full time there was just too much for one person to do. Eventually the conversations dwindled and it all fell by the wayside. As the project leader I took it quite personally and it felt like a huge failure. Even now I still toy with going back and picking up the pieces, but back then I didn’t have anywhere near the expertise. Fortunately, not all was lost! My brother went on to make a great education game called Antidote that actually took some of the elements of what we’d been working on.
But this failure was so crucial. When my Fresh Check co-founders sat down to try and come up with our idea I used my previous experience to set a guideline. Whatever problem we found must have a solution within our area of expertise. With that in mind, we developed a number of different ideas. They ranged from smart receipt readers, to woodworm repellents, to smart use-by dates. After some (occasionally heated) discussion we landed on food spoilage, the idea that founded Fresh Check. We began researching to see if there was a way to monitor what causes illness and in turn, let people know when it had happened.
Unlike our game design idea, this was much easier to figure out. As PhD students researching the Chemical Biology of Health and Disease we already understood how and why different things were happening with illness in food. This cut a huge learning curve so we could actually begin planning how we were going to develop it. Coming up with ideas in area you’re confident and happy working in makes everyone much more excited. With that motivation in place, we were all able to drive the development of Fresh Check forward.
So now we’re sat on an idea that we think can go somewhere but with almost no experience in starting a company. Fortunately, we managed to get into a program called the Venture Catalyst Challenge that taught us the ins and outs of starting a company. It was only a 6 week course, but what we learnt then was invaluable and we still use the lessons to this day! Even more beneficial, this course specialised in teaching scientists how to run a company, so we had a lot of different perspectives that we could relate to. It’s sometimes daunting to ask for help, but we found most people actually wanted to help! Without their help we wouldn’t have accomplished close to what we wanted to.
In a short blog post it’s difficult to put details all of the things we’ve found important on our journey. But to try and simplify some of our examples, here’s a TL;DR list of some of the things we found most useful through our many failures (and occasional successes):
  1. Knowledge. Knowing what you’re doing is essential. It sounds like common sense but if you know a lot about what you’re interested in you can save a lot of time researching.
  2. Perseverance. When trying to build a company there are thousands of ways to get things wrong and only a few ways to get it right. You’re bound to fail a few times, and each time comes with a different emotion. Sometimes you’re angry, sometimes you’re strangely relieved but the most important thing is to dust yourself off and keep on going.
  3. Passion. Develop something that gets you excited and motivated. It doesn’t make the journey any easier, but it does help a lot when you need to pick yourself up after something has gone wrong.
If you’re interested in our company or have any questions, please do feel free to ask us at!
Or if you’d just like to keep up to date, you can follow us @Fresh_Check


About Alex Bond (Co-founder of Fresh Check UK)

UK households dispose of up to seven million tonnes of food and drink each year, the majority of which could have been consumed. By simply throwing away less food, families in the UK could save £700 a year. Fresh Check has created a way to detect bacterial contamination in food using a bio-reactive sticker which turns from blue to orange when dangerous levels of bacteria in foods are detected. Fresh Check’s technology is able to make bacterial contamination visible with a simple change in colour.
Fresh Check directly monitors the level of food spoilage. For example, standard use-by-dates listed on all food packaging is up to 60% less accurate than Fresh Check. Fresh Check can also be used to detect bacteria levels in food as well as in medical facilities and living areas.

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