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Synapse Medical solutions is developing a revolutionary wound dressing based on its proprietary micro-current technology. Early studies have shown that it accelerates healing of even the most difficult wounds.

Synapse was formed in January 2003 by John Gildersleeve and David Chapman Jones. The company is currently on course to complete its third and most substantial round of funding.

But the path to its current success hasn’t been a smooth one.

David: I am a doctor, with a background in sports and exercise medicine, while John has a successful track record of raising money and floating companies. We got together through a third party who knew us both. Synapse is the culmination of more than 10 years research and development for me, but what attracted me to John was that he was obviously able to take an idea and realise it commercially.

John: Having said that, people often think that because there are two of us that there must be a straightforward division of responsibility, but that’s not so. It’s true that David is the scientist and I am the businessman but David also has a lot of commercial acumen and I get involved with the scientific discussions – we don’t have discrete areas of responsibility, we are both interested and involved in everything, and I think that’s why it works as well as it does.

David: There isn’t a clear division of roles really. I suppose I take the lead in terms of being able to push forward the clinical side of things and John takes the lead as far as the overall direction of the company, but we work in genuine partnership.

The commercial aspect was always important to both of us and it drove the company from the outset. We started off in a lab, but we are a commercial operation – that’s why we are here. Synapse was born because a lot of the previous research and development in that area was pretty scattered and had no commercial edge. The purpose of Synapse was to combine the various intellectual properties and to commercialise them along what we saw as the most realistic avenue, which was chronic wound care.

John: In the early years the most important thing for us to do was to focus on some clear commercial goals. We could have gone into several areas, but the wound care market was particularly attractive, not only commercially, but also because the product was clinically particularly effective in that field. In terms of how we’ve done that, we’re perhaps unusual, in that we haven’t spun out of a university, but rather spun ourselves in. We’re based here at the Canterbury Enterprise Hub, on the University of Kent at Canterbury campus. That’s helpful because one of the things we currently need to achieve is an extension of the clinical trials we’ve done to date, and gaining independent academic validation. Being situated here makes it much easier to communicate with the academic establishments we need to do business with than if we were sat in a commercial building somewhere. It also gives us a degree of academic ‘credibility’.

David: The other great advantage of being based here, with the Hub, is that you are surrounded by lots of other companies, at completely different stages of their development. We are all working in different fields, but being surrounded by like minds makes for a very supportive commercial environment. And I think it’s helpful for the University to have us here too.

John: Yes, I think it is useful for universities to have commercial entities on campus, because that gives them more exposure to business practices and values. I think it helps everyone for businesses to be involved with academia.

David: Certainly there seems to be a certain degree of commercial naivety within some sectors of the academic environment, in terms of underestimating the gap that exists between a good idea and its realisation into something that has a commercial value. That, I think, was our biggest headache, in the first instance. It took the company a little while to be able to focus on where it was going and what it was doing.

One of the things that has become apparent to me, working with people that have not necessarily had a lot of business experience, is that there is an assumption that all you have got to do is have a product that works and everything else will just follow on from there, whether it be funding, profitability, marketing or advertising, it will all just come to you.

John: Whereas, having prior commercial experience makes you more likely to be realistic about what is and isn’t possible.

David: My first piece of advice to anyone who is starting out would be ‘be patient’: even if you have got the best idea in the world, do not imagine that it is going to turn itself into something fantastic overnight. It’s quite frightening the amount of time we have taken to get where we are now. I think that getting a range of expert advice is vital if you are to take as straight a line as possible to success.

The second thing that I have learned is that you will always need more money than you think you will – so don’t over commit: it is absolutely imperative to ensure that your financial strategies are sound.

Commitment is the third thing, and that is a question we have been asked an awful lot in fundraising meetings: ‘How much money have you put in yourself? What is your commitment?’

John: I’d just say that you are about to embark on the rollercoaster ride of your life. And to enable you to get through that rollercoaster, I think you need two things: you have to have belief in the business; and you need to have a good team around you. Sometimes you will be down and you will need other members of your team to lift you up. I don’t think many successful people out there have actually done it on their own, they have always got backing. I include friends and family in this. You need to have a committed team and you need to have a self-belief because it probably is not going to go exactly the way you expect it to go.

Canterbury Enterprise Hub Director Lesley-Anne Rubenstein commented, “Synapse is a very exciting company with a team that has been around the block, so to speak. We are supporting the company in the background, ready to offer advice and a sympathetic ear as required. Once the current financing round is completed we expect Synapse to really take off.”


Contact: Lesley-Anne Rubenstein


Published: 22nd August 2006

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