Academic-turned-inventor-turned-entrepreneur, Chris Hancock
The academic-turned-inventor-turned-entrepreneur whose ideas are behind a £60M company.
Chris Hancock was trekking in the Himalayas fifteen years ago when he became passionate about the idea of using high frequency microwave energy to treat a range of cancerous lesions within the human body, which is the basis upon which Creo Medical was built. Creo Medical is a Chepstow-based company specialising in advanced energy for minimally and non-invasive treatment solutions – including colon, lung and pancreatic cancers – that recently floated on London Stock Exchange’s AIM growth market for £60M. In reality though, Chris’s path to success had started much earlier.
In his formative years, Chris was fascinated by electronic circuits and figuring out how things work. He would spend hours building electronic circuits in his garage – constantly playing with new ideas and pushing himself to new levels of understanding. It was no surprise then when he left school to start an engineering apprenticeship.
Chris’s apprenticeship led to experience in microwave engineering and then to Bath Technical College, where he continued to pick up practical experience. From this point, Chris won a sponsorship from Thorn EMI to attend Bangor University and began a long journey into academia that saw him earn a Masters in Communication Engineering and a PhD in Electronic Instrumentation Design. He then joined Gyrus Medical, an innovation-led company that developed electrosurgical devices based on bipolar RF energy for tissue management. The main focus at the time was on laparoscopic surgery (minimally invasive surgery using small incisions, normally in the abdomen). It was here he discovered an environment that would help shape his future achievements.
Chris explains, “At the time, Gyrus was an extremely creative and innovative environment to work in and it was there I learned the value of creating IP and filing patent applications to protect commercially valuable ideas, rather than presenting results at academic conferences and publishing in academic journals. That was something I hadn’t picked up at university, and something only real-world experience could teach me.”
Inspired by his time at Gyrus, Chris decided to take a career break and go travelling for 9 months so he could work on some ideas of his own – which leads us back to that Himalayan trek. “Going travelling really opened my mind to think more freely and not be tied down by routine,” Chris says. “I started to think more openly about innovation and how I could really help people in the fight against cancer, and the ideas that now drive Creo Medical were born.”
But if that makes it sound like setting up a successful business was simple, it wasn’t all plain sailing for Chris in his pursuit to start up. Chris returned to the UK not only with his new ideas, but also with a number of patent applications that he’d filed while away. Regardless of this though, he found it challenging to get things off the ground – and while he continued to develop his ideas he took on temporary jobs including working night shifts in a frozen food factory, printing giant Santas for a Coca Cola advertising campaign, and assembling cardboard boxes for a local packaging company, just to get enough money to keep going.
During this time, he was encouraged and supported by a number of close friends – one allowed him to stay rent free in the spare room for over a year whilst developing his initial ideas and another allowed him to make full use of a garage he was renting to enable Chris to build initial prototype devices. He also received encouragement from friends who had close relatives who’d suffered from the types of cancer he was looking at treat.
Eventually, an old university friend stepped in to offer Chris encouragement as well as financial backing. Between them, they assembled a group of investment angels and managed to raise £400k, which crucially allowed them to keep Chris’s latest patent going and generate new ideas. Creo Medical was born and has gone from strength to strength ever since.
Chris says the transition from inventor to entrepreneur has taught him a lot. “I think to become a successful entrepreneur, you have to be open minded and always believe that the impossible is possible with the right attitude and determination,” he says. “And it’s also vital that you recognise the need to get the right people involved in order to make it work.”
Now, as part of BeTheSpark, Chris is excited about the programme’s potential not just to inspire other individuals, but also to change the mindset of a nation. “BeTheSpark is about instilling a culture of innovation from as early as possible,” Chris says. “Ultimately we want to change things so entrepreneurship is actively encouraged and celebrated.”
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