Then he set up Hart Biologicals in his native Hartlepool.
“The plan at the start was to stick to what I knew best, which was the haematology and blood coagulation field and we set off with one product. Our first order was April 1 2003, which was for a UK hospital. We were very much a UK business at that time. There were three of us; me, my sister-in-law and my older brother, who are both now retired out of the business.’’
They soon introduced more products and, in 2003, were approached by a German company looking for a reagent manufacturer. Hart started making reagents, its first venture into manufacturing and export.
He recalls: “From there, it was quite bizarre, in that we suddenly had two lines of products that Hart Biologicals was involved with: one was our own labelled Hart Biologicals materials, that we sold to UK hospitals and sold abroad through a distributor network that we were building.
“Then this second channel came in where people wanted help with their own products by using our scientific expertise, so we contract developed reagents for them and then manufactured those reagents for them. That, over the years – until recently – has been solely an export activity.’’
Contract development and manufacture accelerated the growth of the business and now the company has expanded the Hart Biologicals own range of products, for which it is now trying to grow sales and distribution channels.
“It’s not an area that I’m comfortable with,’’ says Alby. “I’m a scientist. So we’re looking at what our planned growth sales and marketing activities will be for the future. Interestingly, all the business that has come our way has come from word-of-mouth recommendation.
“We haven’t actually been out pitching for business with many people. It’s a bit of a surprise when somebody rings you and says they were given your name by so-and-so, do you think you can help us, which is always quite nice actually. The business has expanded through that.’’
Another important stage in the growth of the business was the establishment of Hart Innovations.
Alby takes up the story: “Hart Biologicals always did R&D for itself and we did development – in a very simple sense – of these reagents for other people. Usually the development meant changing the format. We already had the technology, we simply put in a different volume, a simple change to make it unique for that particular customer.
“The Hart Innovations side came when some of our clients were asking us to actually design tests from the bottom up. They didn’t know how they wanted to deliver it, they didn’t know exactly how they wanted to format it. They’d say: `We need a test that will do that. We don’t know how to do it, can you help us? This is how our machine will work and this is what we think the blood reagent issue will be’, and things like that. So we were doing a full-on research and development function.