Interview: Dr Mike Cowin, founder and CEO of Touch Biometrix

Tech Dragons recently caught up with Mike Cowin, founder and CEO of North Wales-based company Touch Biometrix.

Founded in 2017, the firm develops fingerprint technology and has been recognised alongside the likes of Apple in the global market.

Mike speaks more about the technology, his start-up journey and how he’s on a mission to turn Touch Biometrix into a top-five fingerprint sensor supplier by 2023.

TD: Who are you, and what do you do?

MC: Touch Biometrix are industry leaders in the field of semiconductors, algorithms and product design. We’re a fabless designer and supplier of a new fingerprint sensing platform that offers ultra-thin sensors of any shape or size.

We have four decades of experience with leading electronic device brands and OEMs in both the USA and Asia and are collaborating closely to define our first products. We are now establishing a clear route to market with selected OEM, supply chain and brand partners. 

TD: Why did you set your company up?

MC: Today’s technology users want a convenient and safe means of being identified when using smart technology. Our unique fingerprint sensing algorithms offer the solution.

We offer a biometric platform based on conformal sensors of any shape or size that can easily be integrated into a myriad of products for a more ergonomic user experience.

What’s more, coupled with our unique pattern recognition algorithms, users will be offered an unparalleled level of safety in use.

TD: What has your start-up journey been like?

DC: The first step is always the hardest. To leave your current job to start a new company is always daunting – but exciting at the same time.

Experience of the start-up and funding environment always helps in de-risking the process. As such, the start-up journey has been very smooth.

Having a good network of capable people to form a team that can execute has been one of the most valuable aspects of building the enterprise value of the business.

We have series ‘A’ funding of £2 million already committed, are defining our first minimum viable product and have a world-class commercial and technical team in place to execute the company plan.

TD: What has been its biggest success and biggest obstacle?

MC: I think we have had a few big successes. Firstly, we gained funding very quickly, on good terms and with a great investor (Deepbridge Capital).

Secondly, we have built a team with the right combination of skill sets and experience that can push the development cycle for the technology quickly.

Thirdly, we have gained market recognition for our value proposition. We are recognised as one the top 20 fingerprint sensor developers in the world in recent market reports. We have also been recognised as one of the Top 35 Tech start-up companies in Wales.

The only real obstacles have been in explaining the fabless business model to grant holders who are pretty keen on creating manufacturing jobs. But Apple doesn’t make anything and this is the same model we hope to emulate where we do the clever stuff and leave the manufacturing to the specialists in Asia.

The second obstacle with UK grant funding is that the development work usually needs to take place in the UK, which disqualifies us as the technical prototyping capability that we need resides in mainland Europe at various research institutes in these early stages.

Ultimately, this will lead to job creation in the UK at our Welsh headquarters in St. Asaph. But it means that grant support for the business is now being pursued in mainland Europe rather than the UK.  

TD: Where do you see yourself and the firm in five years’ time?

MC: With the anticipated growth in Biometrics and our strategic plan, we are aiming to be one of the top 5 suppliers of fingerprint sensors in five years’ time.

In real terms, we will most likely be an ideal acquisition in year 3 of operations. However, it would be preferable to get a buy-in such that we maintain control of the business and can continue to grow the fabless model in North Wales. If none of the above, there’s a good possibility that we could IPO in year 3.

TD: What advice would you give to the next generation of entrepreneurs?

MC: Any advice I give would be focused on the high-tech sector.

Firstly, think globally. It is very easy to engage with the right companies all over the world. Many tech companies such as Microsoft and Apple are eager to hear of new ideas and your planned route to scaled production.

Pick your team carefully. A positive but realistic can-do attitude is all important in the start-up game, and you must teach yourself to see every little hiccup along the way as part of daily life.

Also, from a technical perspective, remember there is no such thing as a bad result – every result teaches you something valuable.  

One key aspect that you must do is validate your market before you progress. It’s not that difficult to do. Don’t sit in isolation saying, ‘I’m sure people will want this, I think it’s a great idea’, but instead go to the market and ask the question ‘do you want this?’. If it’s a ‘yes’ great, get going, if it’s a ‘no’ ask ‘what do you want?’. That is when the fun begins as you learn their pain points and can come up with a valid product or service.

Lastly, and most importantly, ‘know thyself’. In other words, recognise that you are not perfect and that you will be terrible at certain things – recognise your weaknesses and fill the gaps with your team.