Business Irish

Friday 20 October 2017

Storing up pharma success

Serial entrepreneur Louise Grubb tells Sean Gallagher how her 'build it and they will come' strategy worked

Louise Grubb and Sean Gallagher. Photo: Dylan Vaughan.
Louise Grubb and Sean Gallagher. Photo: Dylan Vaughan.
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

Between indigenous Irish firms in the pharmaceutical, medical device and biotech sectors and those international companies that have chosen to locate here, Ireland has now become recognised as a global centre of excellence for life sciences. For a small country like ours, it is hard to believe that 18 of the world's top 20 pharmaceutical companies now have substantial operations here and that six of the world's top 10 best-selling pharmaceutical products are exclusively produced here. With 50,000 people employed directly in the sector and exports of over €45bn each year, Ireland has now become the largest net exporter of pharmaceuticals in the world.

This week's business, Q1 Scientific, provides controlled storage of pharmaceutical and medical device samples for many of the firms operating in this space. Set up in 2013 by serial entrepreneur Louise Grubb, and based in the Westside Business Park in Waterford city, the company employs six staff and has an annual turnover of €2m.

"We work with pharmaceutical and medical device companies who need to store samples from their production runs in a specially controlled temperature & humidity environment," says Louise. "Due to regulatory requirements that govern the manufacturing of pharmaceutical products, a number of product samples must be taken from each batch and placed in controlled storage where it is then regularly tested in various environmental conditions over the shelf-life of the product. This is important in giving both consumers and regulators confidence that the product will perform as expected," she says.

Drug samples are typically held for between three to five years, in line with their expressed shelf life and are typically tested every three to six months. Temperatures can vary from -80C to +40C with accompanying humidity levels of up to 70.5pc. Due to the integration of active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) and antimicrobial agents into some medical devices such as stents, these are now considered combination products and also require similar storage and testing.

Louise's customers are predominantly Irish-based firms including both indigenous businesses as well as well-known multinationals. In addition, she receives samples from firms in the UK, Norway, Malta and the US which manufacture products that are destined for the European market.

Originally from Tramore, Louise's family has been in business in Waterford for over a century. Her father ran a pharmacy and general store in the city and it was here, working part-time throughout her teenage years, that she was first introduced to the world of entrepreneurship.

"My father was full of ideas and was never afraid to try something," says Louise. "I like to think that some of that mindset rubbed off on me. Despite or maybe because of his own background in business, my father's career advice to me was to first get a degree and then to get a permanent pensionable job," she adds.

In 1992, Louise graduated from Trinity College Dublin with a degree in human nutrition and dietetics and soon got a job as a dietician at Crumlin Children's Hospital. While she loved the work, the hospital environment wasn't for her. Instead, she decided to turn her focus to business and to equip her for this, she completed an MBA at DCU and a marketing course with the Marketing Institute of Ireland. From there, she got a job in sales with Cow & Gate Nutricia where she spent the next five years, working her way up to divisional manager. She and her husband, John, a vet, decided to leave Dublin and move back to Waterford where she decided it was the right time to go it alone in business.

"I set up NutriScience in 1999 to manufacture nutraceuticals or medical supplements for animals such as dogs, cats and horses," says Louise. "It proved very difficult at the time to get any startup capital but I eventually managed to get approved for what was officially a £7,000 'car loan', which I used to buy the initial manufacturing equipment and raw materials."

By 2009, Louise was exporting to 15 different countries, employing 20 staff and had an annual turnover of almost €10m. That year, following an approach by a Belgium veterinary pharmaceutical company, Ecuphar, she sold the company which she is pleased is still operating successfully.

Now free, but with a three-year non-compete in place, she began looking around for fresh opportunities. Having studied the wider pharma market, she decided to found Q1 Scientific after she became aware that downward pressure on pricing within the sector was forcing many companies to look at outsourcing as a way to reduce their costs. Because of the high capital costs of setting up their own stability storage chambers, she felt that companies might opt for a top-quality outsourced service, if one was available.

"There was an element of 'build it and they will come' because I couldn't really approach clients until I had a fully-operational facility with all the necessary temperature and humidity chambers already in place," insists Louise.

"We also had to ensure that our level of service and systems were of the highest standards in order to convince potential clients that their samples would be safe with us. This included making sure the facility and quality systems were to the required good manufacturing practice standard and had been successfully audited by the Health Products Regulatory Authority.

"In addition, we developed a bespoke quality management system which could integrate with our clients' own systems so that they could have real time access to all sample documentation," she adds.

With all of this in place, she quickly secured her first clients and the business soon began to thrive. In 2015, she branched into the storage of medical device samples and has since grown a significant client base. Just recently, she took over the building next door in order to double capacity and is now considering a second facility, this time in central Europe, possibly in Belgium or France, to service the wider European market.

She has also just established a new venture, TriviumVet, which will specialise in the development of veterinary drugs for small animals.

"I have assembled a team who have the expertise and proven track record in this area and our strategy is to evaluate existing pharmaceuticals used in humans and work to develop these into targeted veterinary drugs," says Louise.

An engaging and highly astute entrepreneur, in 2016, Louise was selected as a finalist in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards - a well-deserved honour given that she now looks set to be on her way to a third successful business. Despite the advice her father gave her, I am sure that he is well pleased to see what an outstanding and inspiring businesswoman she has now become.

For further information: www.q1scientific.com

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