Interview with Oat Services MD, Cark Maunsell
Tue 14th June 2016
In each issue of Park News we get right to the heart of a Science Park-based business. In this issue, we interview Cark Maunsell, Managing Director of Oat Services.
How did Oat Services come into being and what stage is the business at now? Our roots go back to the early 1990s when I worked on EU commission research projects looking at high value extractions from natural products. By 2008, I had in-depth knowledge about oats and decided to establish a cosmetics ingredients business. Since then we have been on an extremely steep learning curve, but, nearly six years on, we have established ourselves as a leader in our very specific technology. We are a business to business company selling into formulators, brands and manufacturers globally. The distribution network that we have established is enabling us to broaden out into a diverse range of natural crops such as cucumber extract, poppy seed and some specialised barley starches. Most of our ingredients come from Finland or Sweden with some from the UK too.
How do you ensure that the natural resources you’re using are sustainable? It’s an interesting point because increasingly our sustainability credentials are more and more important. We are often required to pass a sustainability audit before even sending sample ingredients into the large multinationals. It’s a very intensive exercise, but one that we believe in. Natural ingredients make up roughly 10% of the total cosmetic ingredients industry (the majority are synthetic), but there is a considerable shift towards using natural products. This is partly because they are more effective than their synthetic counterparts and also because consumers like the ‘natural’ image.
Tell us about your R&D process. Our pipeline is extremely important. Oats contain a number of antioxidant properties in vitro, as well as unique, low-molecular-weight, soluble compounds which aren’t present in other cereal grains. The compounds are anti-pathogens, which are produced by the plant to fight off bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms such an funghi. Delving into these characteristics and finding new and unique ways to utilise the natural qualities found in oats is key to our R&D process.
The cosmetics industry is no different to any other fashion industry in that it moves fast, so having new products to take to market is extremely important. Part of this comes about as a ‘push’ factor: as we mine information about specific natural ingredients we find that there are interesting new applications for them. Sometimes it’s a ‘pull’ factor when a customer asks us for a particular new product. We are a small team with specific expertise, so we work with external associated centres of excellence on a retainer basis to complement our work. For example, we work with a cosmetic marketer because we recognised that we didn’t know enough about this area.
What are you working on at the moment? We spend a lot of time looking at what is on-trend in cosmetics and also at legislative drivers. For example, wax beads, which are commonly used as an exfoliant, are usually made out of polyethylene, but this is not biodegradable and they end up in fish stomachs, killing them. Adverse publicity around this has led to a drive to find natural alternatives and we’re involved in that. Another example is lipsticks. With lipstick, you’re working to get good, even coverage. One of our products helps with this because it grabs the colour pigments and stretches them out so you get an even concentration of colour with less skin showing through for better impact. This kind of product performance is what our customers are looking for.
And what are your predictions for the future? I think we will be eating a lot of our cosmetics! It’s already known that if you eat a lot of tomatoes (which have lycopene in them) they help your sun barrier function. At the moment, we work on skin from the outside but it would be much easier to deliver a cosmetic result from the inside. We expect that women will want more flexibility from their products in the future too. We produced a lipstick layer concept for a show recently, whereby in the morning you apply a lipstick base which is a barrier and very slight exfoliant to take away any dead skin cells, before applying a colourant. Later in the day you could use a plumping agent and after work, you might apply a shimmer layer. To market the concept, you’d probably have a phone app to remind you what to use and when. This is where the technology is going.
What would your top tip for new entrepreneurs be? There is only one lifeblood for new entrepreneurs and that is money. Around 95% of all companies fail within the first two years and there’s no such thing as a sympathetic bank so cash is incredibly important. The other thing I’d say is that success always takes you longer than you think it is going to. For us at Oat Services, there’s no secret magic dust – we just do the simple things well. When I listen to other successful entrepreneurs they always talk about the need to be rigidly focused but that’s easy to say when you’ve achieved success. Many businesses that have hit the wall were also incredibly focused; it’s just that they had the wrong idea at the time. However brilliant your idea is, if it’s not acceptable to the marketplace, it isn’t going to sell, whether you’re focused or not!
What do you like about being based at Southampton Science Park? There are an enormous number of advantages for us. Apart from the coffee shop (which is incredibly important!), it’s good to be in an environment with so many other entrepreneurs and our brand image benefits from being on a science park. The flexible facilities here are useful too – it’s enabled us to move from one office to another already and there aren’t many places where you can get that kind of support as you grow.