Interviews

Building an innovative, technological business in rural Scotland

5 min read

01 February 2018

Special projects journalist

Nanotechnology and materials science equipment provider KP Technology is not what you might picture when you think of a rural Scotland business, but think again.

KP Technology provides research equipment services to industrial and academic researchers working in the area of nanotechnology and materials science. The business holds worldwide patents for its equipment designs, exports 90-95 per cent of its equipment, and has won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Innovation.

The company’s full-time staff are highly accomplished, with graduate degrees in physics, chemistry, software engineering and electronic engineering. Around 40 per cent of staff have PhDs, one member of staff is in her third year of an industrial PhD sponsored by the Royal Commission of 1851 and is enrolled at St Andrews University.

However, it was because the company was recognised at the Amazon Growing Business Awards as Rural Business of the Year that is of particular interest. We caught up with Iain Baikie, director at KP Technology, to find out more.

A little more about the product

The specific equipment KP works with is the Kelvin probe (hence the company name) and also ambient pressure photoemission spectroscopy (APS). KP Technology is the only company in the world to offer this range of products, and about 35 per cent of its systems are bespoke.

“Some smaller manufactures have copied my original product design. We now patent any commercial products. These vendors have no experience in interpreting measurement data and tend to operate in the small equipment, low margin sector,” explained Baikie.

“We have niche competitors that are part of larger organisations. In essence, we get along well with these competitors and we may even collaborate with them or they will ‘hand over’ a client if our product is more appropriate. A product recommendation for a competitor could be a sign that we are regarded as market leaders in our niche.”

In addition, the business conducts research and development using its own equipment on electronics materials, both in the field of blue sky research and applied research for industrial applications.

“We conduct research into test samples supplied from research labs around the world. We work out how to get these materials, which are sometime difficult to analysis to ‘speak to us’. For new materials applications this allows a potential client to be assured of the quality of data,” said Baikie.

The rural England life

With the business based in Wick, North Scotland, there are advantages and disadvantages to establishing a company in this sort of rural setting. According to Baikie, the distance to travel to meet clients of attend exhibitions and other meetings is one of the main drawbacks – it can take two days travel to meet a client.

“We have a ‘live’ booth at large international conferences. Live means we take working research equipment to demonstrate,” Baikie explained.

In addition, extra thought must be applied to arrange shipping and logistics, as connections are not so readily available – although Wick does have air, road and rail connections.

Lastly, recruitment can be a challenge – the level of education and experience required within the company is fairly high, but appropriate sales and marketing experience has proved the hardest to come by.

However, Baikie benefits elsewhere – his commute time is two or three minutes, there is a close community and a low cost of overheads.

So, what’s next for the Amazon Growing Business Awards Rural Business of the Year?

“I have preferred organic growth, but any company has to consider when fresh impetus is required,” said Baikie. “KP Technology is at the point that sales could easily double or even treble with a good marketing campaign and the technical steps to increase manufacturing output are well known and relatively easily handled.”

“We are seeking to maximize our sales potential by improving marketing of our products worldwide and by developing innovative solutions.”


Disruptor brands dominate at Amazon Growing Business Awards 2017

Revolut, ClickMechanic and Pip & Nut led the way for British disruptor brands at the 19th outing of the Amazon Growing Business Awards, held in London.