Medical technology concept. Medtech. Electronic medical record.

The UK’s MedTech industry is booming, and female-led start-ups are leading the way.

Starting my own business had never been part of the plan, and medical devices were certainly not on my radar.

I was studying Industrial Design and Technology at Brunel University with the intention of specialising in furniture design, when family circumstances dictated a completely different path.

My two younger brothers suffer from Crohn’s Disease, an incurable inflammatory bowel disease. Watching them battle this chronic disease, I became all too familiar with the significant challenges they, and many other people like them, face. The ever-present reality of invasive bowel surgery with the prospect of a stoma[1] can be scary to say the least.

Keen to understand what having a stoma would mean, I began researching ostomy[2] devices.  Despite the wealth of appliances available, it was clear to me that there was opportunity for improvement. State-of-the-art devices seem to focus on output collection and their clinical aesthetic merely compounds users’ psychological struggles making daily activities like socialising and intimacy, challenges fraught with anxiety.

Many ostomates report feelings of disgust and embarrassment, and there is undoubtedly a social stigma that exacerbates this. There is no doubt that stoma surgery saves lives, yet for even the most body confident ostomates[3], current products are stigmatising and the lack of choice is frustrating. This was a lightbulb moment for me. It was at that moment that furniture design was abandoned and Ostique was born.

The Ostique journey began with the development of an ostomy prototype at Brunel. After exhibiting at New Designers, Made in Brunel and London Design Week and following considerable media and public interest, Ostique won an Innovate UK grant and we were off!

Setting up your own business can be a lonely task and, as the founder – who is somewhat of a control freak – it can be tempting to feel as though you must do everything yourself. However, I knew that if Ostique was going to work, I needed a team of passionate and skilled individuals who could help me drive the business forward. Running a start-up is a rollercoaster of highs, lows, long hours and a lot of hard work. Having the right team who can build each other up when things are challenging and to cheer with you when things go well, is what will get you through.

The first person to join the Ostique team was Toni Schneider. She is a qualified solicitor with a completely different skillset to me. We have known each other for 20 years and in spite of  warnings about mixing business with friendship, we are a formidable team. Having Toni to share the responsibility with has made a huge difference to the success of the business. We complement each other and having someone that you trust and believe in by your side really cannot be underestimated.

Once those foundations were laid, I needed to consider the complexities of navigating the medtech world; clinical trials and regulatory approval are not areas that you can improvise! I was conscious of my lack of experience in this respect, and if you get this part wrong, many months (not to mention thousands of pounds!) can be wasted. Even the best idea can fall flat if one is not respectful of the specific industry one is in and does not understand its regulatory requirements, and the medtech industry is understandably particularly unforgiving.

We have therefore worked hard to build relationships with experts in this area and court their opinion to ensure we are on track for success. One thing that has really surprised me is how many talented and successful people are keen to provide support and guidance to start-ups; there is an incredible amount of positivity and goodwill out there. I really would advise any new business to spend some time researching and reaching out to individuals that inspire them.

With the support of these advisors Ostique has come a long way. We now have an innovative solution and patented technology that has the potential to disrupt the ostomy market. As we enter a period of clinical trials and regulatory submissions, we feel we have reached a significant milestone and are excited about the opportunities this next stage of the journey will bring.

In addition to surrounding yourself with talented people, I would also recommend any start-up to regularly remind themselves of why they started the business in the first place. This is something that we have kept at the heart of Ostique’s development. Yes, this is a business; yes, we want it to be a success; but, most of all, we want to change the lives of people living with a stoma. It sounds so simple, but it is so easy to get caught up in your own vision that you forget that you might not have all the answers. By keeping the patient front and centre of everything you do and regularly asking for their opinion, you’re far more likely to end up with the right solution. This is where start-ups can gain the edge over larger corporates.

To us stoma products are not just consumables. They are game changers. Considering our holistic and inclusive design approach, our products have the potential to give people back their dignity, their self-belief and their confidence. Ostique is about more than just innovation and design. It is also about our community and the incredible differences we can make to people’s lives. This is what inspired Ostique in the first place and this is what keeps us going every single day.

[1] A stoma is an opening on the surface of the abdomen which has been surgically created to divert the flow of faeces or urine. People who have had stoma surgery are sometimes known as ‘ostomates’ or ‘ostomists’.

[2]  Ostomy: an artificial opening in an organ of the body, created during an operation such as a colostomy, ileostomy, or gastrostomy; a stoma

[3] people with a stoma

Stephanie MontyAbout the author

Stephanie Monty is the founder and CEO of Ostique Ltd. Both of her brothers suffer from Crohn’s disease, and witnessing first-hand the devastating consequences of bowel disease is what inspired her to create Ostique’s innovative ostomy products. Ostique’s key innovation is to combine customisable aesthetics and innovative material technology to improve users’ quality of life, optimise patient outcomes, and promote positive body image.

Stephanie graduated from The University of Manchester with a 2:1 (Hons) in History followed by a First in Industrial Design and Technology at Brunel University. She has won The Brunel James Dyson Award for Innovation, and was a National Finalist in the Santander Entrepreneurs Awards. She has been featured in several printed publications including Dezeen, Possibility magazine and Dirty Furniture magazine, featured on the BBC in 2018, and most recently won an Innovate UK grant for her work with Ostique.

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