"SETsquared gave us the stability and platform to give it a shot as a company, and its business review panels provided the discipline and focus that turned us into a professional organisation."
Jim Wicks, managing director, PrimerDesign

Fast facts 

  • Start date: 2005
  • Website: www.primerdesign.co.uk
  • Market sector: Biotechnology
  • Location: Southampton
  • Investment raised: self-funded
  • Number of employees: 19
  • Company turnover: £2.5m

SETsquared support

  • mentoring
  • business review panels
  • networking
  • premises

Company overview

PrimerDesign is a biotechnology company that makes DNA detection kits. It has thousands of customers in 104 countries around the world, with the biggest customer base being diagnostic laboratories in hospitals. The kits have many uses, for example detecting the DNA fingerprint of a virus such as HIV in a patient's blood sample.

What was the vision for the company and what problem were you aiming to solve? 

"I was working for a large pharmaceutical company but had always wanted to be an entrepreneur, and my co-founder, Rob Powell, was an academic. For both of us, we decided it was the right time to take our expertise in this kind of technology and to set up a new company."

Company successes

June 2007: moved to Millbrook Technology Park
May 2009: developed world's first Mexican H1N1 swine flu detection kit
October 2011: moved to own offices

SETsquared support

"When we started the company we approached the University of Southampton for funding. We weren't successful, but the network of people involved in that process pointed us towards SETsquared, and told us SETsquared could be useful for us."
"Initially, our office was my spare room, and we had a little bit of laboratory space in the hospital and at the University. So the first thing that SETsquared did for us was to give us an office, which was a hugely important part of getting ourselves established."
"SETsquared's advice and mentoring were really useful, and helped us to establish ourselves as a professionally-run organisation. SETsquared helped us to knock our business plan into shape, and to be disciplined and focus on what the priorities were for us to stay afloat at that early stage. We only had our £30,000 seed capital in the bank, which is a very small amount of money for a biotechnology start up, so we had to sell products immediately."
"The mentoring helped us to hone in on what was important for our business, which was to generate revenue. This business has always been about driving those revenues and creating profits off their back, which we can then re-invest. SETsquared helped us to get this right early on, which meant that we could keep going for the first couple of years as we got established."
"We attended business review panels run by SETsquared on two occasions. Although they seemed a little like unnecessary work at the time, it was actually a really good discipline for us to get our thoughts together and lay our business out in front of other people. The panels helped us to focus our priorities."
"The single biggest example of where SETsquared helped us was in 2009, when we produced the world's first swine flu detection kit. SETsquared and the University press office foresaw the impact of the story, and helped us handle the enormous press interest."
"This massively raised our profile globally, and is a big part of why we now have customers in 104 countries. SETsquared and the university are much more PR-aware than we are, and they pushed the story, lined up the news crews and handled all the phone calls."
"We've had a couple of grants from UKTI, for £10,000 and £30,000. SETsquared made the connection for us with UKTI to make these happen. A really useful part of what SETsquared does is build networks and put small companies like us in touch with the right people. UKTI's schemes to help with export have also been really useful, and have provided small amounts of money to help us to go to exhibitions overseas."
"David Bream, our main contact at SETsquared, is knowledgeable and direct. He comes straight to the point and tells us exactly how a situation is – which is what a young business needs to hear."

Future plans

"We've established our niche and our expertise: we produce the best molecular diagnostic kits of their type. It's a $5 billion market, so the sky's the limit – there's no reason why we can't double or triple our revenues from where we are now."