“Is it still safe to use? I wondered,” Higgins relates. “Like so many of us with our children’s food, I wasn’t willing to risk it and threw it out. Then I thought – What a waste! Surely there must be a better way?”
Edinburgh has a growing reputation as a centre of excellence for technology in the UK. There’s a great opportunity to not only invest here, but also to get involved with the growth of an exciting new business venture.Pete Higgins , chief executive officer and founder, UWI Technology
The experience led Higgins to create the UWI Label, a smart label that is activated automatically when the container is opened and tells consumers at a glance if a product is still safe to use.
“It can be viewed from a distance and understood in an instant – and has a universal colour code: green is good, red is bad,” explains Higgins, who is chief executive of UWI Technology. “Many years of rigorous scientific development have refined our unique patented technology. Not only the most accurate label on the market, but also the clearest and easiest to use. It reduces doubt, waste, risk, and saves money.”
The label uses ‘microfluidic’ technology – the manipulation of fluids on a tiny scale – to show how much time has elapsed since the container was opened. As well as food and drink, the UWI Label is relevant to a wide range of industries involving products with critical lifespans, including life sciences, aerospace and health and beauty.
Since it was set up in 2009, the business has grown to eight people and has raised more than £3 million in investment, including a £1.26 million funding injection in 2014 from US private angel investor syndicate, Aero-Den, the Scottish Investment Bank – the investment arm of Scottish Enterprise – and a number of private investors.
“We were the first Scottish company to receive funding from a US-based angel syndicate,” Higgins says. “The syndicate was specifically established to invest in the UWI Label. Since 2009, I’ve built the UWI team and overseen the technical development of the label, which has gone on to win many awards. The people at UWI Technology don’t just create labels. Innovation runs through everything we do, from electronics and microfluidics, to securing new clients and communication.”
As a designer, Higgins says he has a passion for keeping things simple and elegant – “whilst maintaining their function.” The company is now developing a second, hybrid label that is electronic and will be able to monitor other measures such as temperature, pressure and humidity. The hybrid label will also be able to send text or email warnings, as well as communicating with other labels or devices, giving products the functionality known as the ‘Internet of Things.’
“It offers the best supply chain communication on the market – both an immediate visual display, and real time, proactive communication,” Higgins says.
Higgins was born and brought up in Edinburgh and went to university in Aberdeen and Glasgow to study architecture. After working in two of Scotland’s largest architectural firms, he set up his first business producing 3D visuals and walk-through animations for the property sector.
“This grew into a full blown multi-media agency, before I came up with the idea for the UWI Label in 2008 and came back to my roots,” he says. “Edinburgh has been a fantastic environment to support the business in its development, with its hub of innovative companies.”
UWI Technology is headquartered at CodeBase in Edinburgh, the UK’s largest technology incubator, and has a manufacturing base in the US.
“Edinburgh has a growing reputation as a centre of excellence for technology in the UK,” Higgins continues. “There’s a great opportunity to not only invest here, but also to get involved with the growth of an exciting new business venture.”
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