As part of our Game changers series we meet Byron Dixon, whose childhood love of chemistry and upbringing propelled his entrepreneurial dreams. Micro-Fresh, which Byron founded in 2006, produces antibacterial coatings for use in everyday products. It is growing 25% every year.
95 per cent of people who have started their business will tell you that the first two or three years are not fun. We’ve all gone through the same pain: the phone doesn’t ring, you’re cocooned at a computer in your bedroom, there’s no money coming day to day - Byron Dixon, founder, Micro-Fresh.
Micro-Fresh is an invisible anti-bacterial treatment that promotes freshness. It prevents odours and bacterial growth for bedding, textiles, towels, bath mats and footwear but also stops nasties such as MRSA, E. coli and salmonella.
The popular Micro-Fresh range of mother and baby bedding has been available in John Lewis since the start of 2016, transforming the market in the process.
Annual turnover of Micro-Fresh is now into seven figures with growth exceeding 25% every year.
Byron grew up on a council estate; his mum was an immigrant from Jamaica and a single parent with five children. It was a happy childhood but he remembers mould on the walls in his home, which was part of a social housing complex.
Micro-Fresh recently completed a £120,000 study – supported by Innovate UK – which discovered that their product could be used in plaster to stop mould growing on walls.
Byron has now launched a not-for-profit company, the Micro-Fresh Foundation, which will support its use in social housing.
The Plaster Project is relevant to me as I grew up in a social housing area of Leicester and experienced asthmatic symptoms as a child. This is a typical function of mould in damp social housing.
He says he had a short attention span at school and was “always doing stuff to interrupt the class” but developed a love of chemistry.
We did the crystal garden, growing crystals in soda glass and I just loved it. It seemed like magic to a child. I remember my chemistry teacher saying to me, ‘Byron, if you want you can actually sail through your chemistry exams.’ So I did.
After leaving school Byron worked for Ecco shoes in Denmark on a specific problem: mould on leather on shoes made in Asia and shipped all over the world. Byron returned to the UK and founded Micro-Fresh.
I thought, I’ll work on a product to prevent mould growth on leather.
- 2001: BSc in Chemistry from the Open University
- 2006: Founded Micro-Fresh
- 2014: UK National Entrepreneur of the Year (EY)
- 2015: Innovate UK research grant to prevent mould in plaster
- 2016: John Lewis launch Micro-Fresh mother and baby bedding range
- 2017: Micro-Fresh Foundation to help stop mould growing on walls in social housing
In for the long haul
Rather than seek outside funding for the company in those early days, Byron cut his cloth to suit his ambitions.
I did what everybody else does when they don’t have any money, you scale your life down accordingly. It’s easy to give up and get a job. I was offered a good job about 18 months into starting my own business and I was close to taking it. But I did want to be my own boss.
The things that keep you going are you see the endgame. If you do it for the money a lot of people give up early. If you do it for the freedom you’re in it for the long run.
Since 2007, the company has opened overseas offices in China, India, Portugal, Vietnam and Singapore and has just started operating in the USA.
When I go back home to where I grew up, it’s a strange feeling. But it feels like this is where everything started, and it makes me feel like anybody can achieve stuff.
The sky’s the limit
In January 2016, John Lewis started stocking Micro-Fresh’s mother and baby bedding; the company had to undergo two years of rigorous tests to be accepted by the leading retailer.
We went through skin tests, in contact with the baby’s skin, the lot, [but] that range has now absolutely transformed the market. Mothers are now asking for products with Micro-Fresh in.
Micro-Fresh products are also stocked in Next, Debenhams, Matalan, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, M&S and many other outlets.
Byron is now looking to tap into the vast American market, where there is huge demand for antibacterial products – particularly since the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa. He says the Micro-Fresh coating can also protect against E. coli, MRSA, salmonella and listeria. His lightbulb moment came in the changing room of his local football team.
I play football and during some dressing room banter one of the lads said that if it stops fungus, it should stop bacteria like MRSA and E. coli. We did some tests with the University of Leicester and we came up with the antibacterial side and now we’re into the food industry and healthcare.
Working with Byron, this massive ball of energy, he spreads his energy wherever he goes. When he walks through the door, you feel like you can run the world.
- Jigna Varu, global commercial manager, Micro-Fresh
- You can follow Byron on Twitter: @byrondixon5
- Follow Byron’s company, Micro-Fresh, on Twitter: @FresherLiving
- For more information on Micro-Fresh, visit the company’s website
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