There can’t be too many entrepreneurs in the UK who have begun their careers in Kazakhstan, progressed them in Russia and Finland, then set up a business in Yorkshire, England. A path less travelled it may well be, but it’s one that has led Olga Kubassova to a remarkable position in the country’s bioscience landscape, most notably via the creation of Image Analysis, the company she co-founded in 2007. It’s a journey that has already seen Kubassova and the firm pick up numerous eye-catching small business and academic accolades.
Thankfully, it’s also a success story that could hold positive outcomes for everyone, because the company’s work, including its flagship product DYNAMIKA, is used for conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and procedures including breast imaging. Among other things, their software automates the process involved in reviewing MRI scans. These can now be analysed in a fraction of the time previously required, offering medical experts and patients alike the promise of reduced waiting times, greater diagnostic accuracy, and fresh advances in the war against painful illnesses.
Kubassova’s mathematical prowess was evident from an early age. It was nurtured in one of Kazakhstan's boarding schools, and honed at St. Petersburg State University. Whilst in Russia, Kubassova decided that a more fruitful route for future employment would be to get a grip upon the technological advances fast appearing worldwide. She opted for a second masters degree in computer science in Finland, and soon after won a scholarship to Leeds University where she studied for a PhD in the field.
Her enjoyment of the thesis work, which concerned complex algorithms, was such that she wanted to find a way to continue her research. So, with the ink on her doctorate barely dry, Kubassova set up Image Analysis Ltd, a small business offering specialist software and expertise to help clients in the medical sector with imaging research, and clinical studies and trials.
“Back then, it was just me working from my bedroom, which was really tough,” Kubassova recalls. “But in our first year, we got an initial grant from Yorkshire Forward.”
That >UK government grant was worth £20,000, provided on a 50/50 basis, for developing product concepts. It allowed Kubassova to purchase office software and similar basic business components. An additional funding grant of £100,000, also from Yorkshire Forward, was awarded to the business a while later. This time, the provided grant money was dedicated to coping with research and development expenses. The agency’s support, and other prizes and recognition that came early on, were vital to the company’s success.
Kubassova recollects the formative, early stages of her new business with good humour. “Funnily enough, even as some things went wrong, Yorkshire Forward or some other development agency would give me a prize -- like Young Entrepreneur of the Year, or Innovation of the Year -- just at the right time!”
In 2008, a pharmaceutical company interested in innovation bought into Image Analysis’s vision, becoming their first major client by providing a three year contract for project work. Since then, the company has undergone additional business development, and now boasts five full-time employees and a similar number of part-time workers. The company expanded again in 2011 when two new coordinators were brought on.
Kubassova speaks very highly of the two agencies that have helped her small business via their government support.
“We’ve been really heavily supported by Yorkshire Forward and Business Link -- they’ve been incredible for us,” she enthuses. “Yorkshire Forward have a great structure, it’s very straightforward -- if you have a good idea, you fill in an application, and they talk you through all the financial elements. Plus, for me, they provided access to a great adviser. That was a big help because, being from the academic world, I wasn’t at all familiar with business practices.”
She’s in no doubt about the importance of the business assistance received, either. “Without the grants, the business wouldn’t have happened,” she admits. “It was like, 'here’s the money, you have an idea, go for it.' They didn’t waste our time.”
There were a few typical conditions attached to the government financing provided, but it soon went towards requirements such as IT protection, salaries, and the costs associated with traveling to conferences and exhibitions (the company’s products are already making waves on the international stage.) All in all, those early injections of investment were essential elements of the company’s success.
As for her advice for other entrepreneurs, Kubassova simply said, “If you don’t look for funding, you won’t find it."
She continues, “Don’t be afraid of red tape, there will be some bureaucracy, but if somebody’s going to give you free money, you have to be grateful. I hear people saying that it’s so much hassle -- well, if you can afford to not get that funding, then there are other businesses that could really do with it!” It’s the kind of steely, determined viewpoint that has helped Image Analysis to flourish.
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