Science to Business - Dr. Henry Lowe
Science to business
In many parts of the world ideas that evolve in academic and research and development institutions become the basis of high value creating businesses. Here in the Caribbean such an outcome is less common. However, in the past several years we have been introduced to several persons who have not only achieved academic excellence but also played a lead role in converting knowledge into commercial success. This month’s success story is about such a person.
How did the story start?
It starts with Dr the Honourable Henry Lowe, born in St. Andrew, Jamaica. He gained his BSc Hons at UWI and then completed an MSc at the University of Sydney in Australia followed by a PhD at Manchester University in the UK and further tertiary qualifications from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA. He has had roles in both the academic and public sectors but, more importantly, it has been his interest in generating value from S&T knowledge that is of special importance.
How did that happen?
In 1992 Henry set up his first business entity within what is known today as EHF Group of Companies, a non-profit venture called the Environmental Health Foundation which aimed to improve the quality of people’s lives in Jamaica. The Group, through a commercial arm called EHF Resource Development Ltd., also owns Pelican Publishers Ltd, Eden Gardens Wellness and Lifestyle Ltd., and the Bio-Tech Institute. This latter business is engaged in the research, development and commercialisation of health and wellness products derived from Jamaican plant-derived materials. As a result of these commercial initiatives, he has developed the CARICOM region’s first science-based nutraceuticals industry focused on a growing multi-billion dollar international market space.
What is unique about the Group?
It has been Henry’s focus on deriving high value health and wellness products and solutions from plants which grow in Jamaica. Of particular interest to him were bioactive derivatives that could help those suffering from lifestyle diseases such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis and HIV. His initial focus was on Jamaican Ball Moss, which he started experimenting with in 2007, and an experimental derivative product which he called ‘Alpha Prostate Formula 1’. This led him to develop a range of supplements and medicinal teas that had the potential to help sufferers of the lifestyle diseases mentioned to achieve an improved quality of life.
What about products and validation?
That’s one of the Group’s particular strengths. It collaborates with numerous organisations and institutes that have an interest or expertise in the health and wellness products field and also engages young scientists in processes which help to validate the scientific basis and associated benefits of a range of plant-derived products. Currently they include supplements (with each ingredient being validated for quality and bioactivity); teas (medicinal herbal teas fortified with vitamins and minerals); instant ‘power’ porridges that have been found to enhance athletic prowess in Jamaica; and a specially formulated Organic Sports Energy Drink.
What have been the challenges and successes?
On the challenges side, ‘detractors’ have been a real threat to the Bio-Tech Institute’s work and product development processes. Gaining approvals to promote and sell the products in target markets has also been a big challenge. Because the process of identifying and developing science-backed products is resource intensive, gaining access to funding and working capital has been a continuous battle. However, in spite of these challenges, Henry says they have been able to achieve notable successes including Certification from the USDA that enables free sale of their supplements in the US market and gaining registration and licenses from the Jamaican Ministry of Health. In addition, when the products were launched in both the US and Jamaica, they were positively received and the interest generated has continued to grow as has the exposure. Caribbean Export has also provided significant funding to train staff so that they can cope with an ever changing regulatory environment and also adopt a quality-infused operational efficiency approach.
Why is the EHF Group a success story?
Because, in spite of all the challenges and hurdles associated with developing and marketing health and wellness products in just about every market in the world, Henry and his team have taken derivatives from locally grown plants in Jamaica and developed a credible officially approved platform upon which to expand in future years. They have turned S&T into commercial outcomes, a real achievement within the Caribbean. They also have big plans for the future including promoting the Eden Gardens Nutraceutical Brand built upon an authoritative indigenous, scientific and medicinal basis, adopting an aggressive marketing campaign, to increase sales by 15% annually over each of the next five years, to optimise all of the processes and procedures and to commercialise a number of promising product lines.
What does this mean for the region?
For a country such as Jamaica, which faces challenging economic times, businesses which generate far higher value from the country’s natural resources are essential if the country is to advance economically and socially. Costs can only be cut so far in a ‘stagnant’ economy. The real challenge is to increase value creation. The EHF group and its entrepreneurial and dynamic leader are doing everything they can to contribute towards that process.
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