This year’s alumni award winners for Innovation and Enterprise, Neciah and Josephine Dorh, have been recognised for the invaluable role they’re playing in tackling antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Their health-tech start-up, FluoretiQ, is developing rapid diagnostic tools which will help doctors to diagnose infections quickly and accurately. This crucial technology will reduce the over prescription of antibiotics, which is a driving cause of AMR. We caught up with the husband-and-wife duo to learn more.
Josephine Dorh – Chief Technology Officer
Can you tell me more about your work at FluoretiQ?
We’ve been developing a medical device that can identify and enumerate bacteria in fifteen minutes, which will help GPs to prescribe antibiotics more accurately. It’s anticipated that antimicrobial resistance could be the next pandemic, which is why we want to play our part in antimicrobial stewardship.
Incorrect prescriptions lead to drug resistant infections, which claimed 1.2 million lives in 2019 alone. It is expected that more people than will die from drug-resistant infections than cancer by 2050; AMR is no longer just a threat it is a full-blown problem on our doorstep and we need to take action now. At FluoretiQ, we are developing rapid testing platforms (NANOPLEX® & SCFI™) to reduce diagnosis and antibiotic selection turnaround time from days to minutes – making the first prescription, the right prescription. If we don’t safeguard antibiotics use today, then we may not have effective antibiotics available in the future.
What’s been your proudest moment so far with FluoretiQ?
Our first product is a 15-minute diagnostic test for urinary tract infections. Back in 2019, myself and a couple of researchers from University of Bristol took our very first prototype out for an evaluation with urine samples at a hospital laboratory. We tested urine samples continuously for 7 hours, to gather as much data and insights as possible. It doesn’t sound very exciting but that was a very proud moment for me! At that point, we tested 150 samples and the experience reinforced the importance of our work to improving outcomes for the 150 people that the samples represented.
What are your future ambitions for FluoretiQ?
I look forward walking into GPs’ offices and seeing our products being used constantly as an essential tool in tackling infections. It would mean so much to hear a GP say – this kit is the best thing that ever happened to me. Technology wise, our focus is enabling early diagnosis for better patient outcomes. For that reason, we want to increase the number of infectious diseases that we can address and eventually move into oncology.
How did studying at Bristol influence you as a person?
It nurtured the inquisitive mind that I already had. University helped me to take the science that I was learning in the classroom and apply it to real life. It taught me not just to think about problems, but also to search for the solutions. The course was intense, but the department did a good job of exposing us to the wide-ranging applications of our skills as budding engineers.
How does it feel to win this year’s Alumni Award for Innovation and Enterprise?
Surreal. You go through university and you’re just one student surrounded by thousands of others. You’re lucky if you get remembered by your lecturer! Getting an award like this makes you feel like the institution sees you and acknowledges what you’re doing. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that the university is still keen to support and recognise achievements of their students, even 10 years on!
What advice would you give to people who want to launch a start-up?
I would say that you need a lot of perseverance. With any start-up, you’ll reach a moment where you feel like giving up, but that probably means you’re reaching a breakthrough moment. That’s when you need to reach deep within and find that extra push that will help you to keep going.
What’s your favourite thing about working in Bristol?
The diversity. There are so many start-ups here and an amazing ecosystem of knowledge that you can tap into. We’ve been able to form so many collaborations here and can share resources with the University and other companies.
Neciah Dorh – Chief Executive Officer
FluoretiQ was founded by yourself, Josephine and Martin Cryan – how did you come up with the idea?
FluoretiQ was born out of a common understanding of the technical challenges of detecting harmful bacteria and the need for new approaches to make testing fast enough to impact that critical first treatment decision. We were originally working on a fast, label-free test for bacteria detection when we met Professor Carmen Galan and Professor James Spencer (both University of Bristol academics) whose advances in rapid labelling of bacteria would eventually help us introduce the pathogen identification feature of our tech. Today, NANOPLEX is a 15-minute test for bacteria identification and enumeration (200x faster than lab); like many innovations, it has benefitted from collaborative input and several stages of refinement.
What’s the best thing about start-up life? And the most challenging?
No two days are the same and I get to work with an amazing group of people. We’re a small team and we’ve invented an entirely new test that has withstood the scrutiny of peer review and is now getting ready to go out into the market. We’ve achieved so much together which makes me immensely proud.
The more challenging side is that in start-up life you never have enough time, money or people. You must be resilient and unafraid to ask for help when you need it. There are lots of setbacks, but at FluoretiQ, the team comes in every day with the optimism to overcome and to keep giving it their best.
What kind of student were you at Bristol?
A very studious one! I took two years out working before I started my undergraduate degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering at the University and had lost the rhythm of studying and learning in formal settings. I actually failed my first exam and it was the first time I ever failed an exam in my entire life. It was a serious shock, but it motivated me to double down. I studied hard and played hard as well, joining the motorsport society and often travelling back to my native St.Lucia.
You met Josephine at University, could you describe the moment that you met her?
We met on our undergraduate course and the first thing she ever said to me was, “Neciah…wait, isn’t that a girl’s name?”. I thought – who in their right mind would open with that? But I did respect her for saying it to my face. Over time I got to know her and realised that she’s one of those people who just lays their heart on the table – what you see is what you get. Having worked on many projects at uni together, I knew her to be a highly capable and driven engineer. I can’t tell you how many jobs she does at FluoretiQ.
How does it feel to receive the Alumni Award for Innovation and Enterprise?
Extremely humbling. From my perspective we still have a long way to go before we achieve the goals that we set for ourselves but it’s great to have our alma mater recognise our efforts. When I received the letter telling us we’d won the award I had to read it three or four times to really let it sink in.
Where does your entrepreneurial drive come from and who inspires you?
I’ve got many influences, but the initial seed was planted by my closest family. My mother and sister run a retail business together; they’re very industrious women who can spot an opportunity a mile away. I’m one of six siblings and pretty much everybody in my family has a hand in entrepreneurship. I always knew that I wanted to follow in their footsteps. I’m also influenced by the people I’ve met through networks like QTEC, SETsquared and institutions like the Cranfield School of Management and Judge Business School in Cambridge. I learn as much as I can from everyone.
Outside of work, what are you most passionate about?
Family – we’ve got two really great kids. My daughter, who is only four, is already charging five to ten pounds for make-believe coffee, so I’m pretty sure that entrepreneurship is also in her blood! I’m close with my wider family and will speak to all of my siblings and my mother in any given week. We’re practicing Christians so when we’re not with family we’ll be helping the Church. We try to make ourselves as useful as possible outside of work.
Each year, the University of Bristol recognises alumni who have made remarkable contributions to society through the Alumni Awards. You can see the full list of our 2022 winners on our website.