Dynamic Business Logo
Home Button
Bookmark Button

With an innovative idea and a commitment to making a difference, Linda Lowndes is changing the lives of people from all over the world with her Microskin system. Rebecca Spicer tracks the highs and lows of this journey to entrepreneurial success.

 Active Image

After 20 years in the film industry, doing makeup and technical design, Linda Lowndes heard the story of a boy condemned to a life of confinement indoors due to a condition that affected his skin’s pigment. Deeply moved by this story, Lowndes, around nine years ago, found herself pondering what would become the biggest challenge of her life—to invent a formula to create a Microskin that not only covers visible skin conditions such as burns, scars, the effects of vitiligo and birthmarks, but is colour-corrected to match each individual’s skin colour.

While her experience in the film industry gave her an understanding of elements of skin and colour, Lowndes had to study cosmetic chemistry as well as techniques that use spectrophotometers to read colour. With a young family at home, she continued working three jobs to contribute to the family income as well as financing her invention. She and her husband sold their home, and her mother gave Lowndes money from her retirement fund to help develop the system. "There were days when we didn’t have a cent left. So it was a very hard, trying, and stressful journey," she recalls. But with unconditional support from her family and a determination to make it work, Lowndes pushed on.

While the research, time, and cost involved in developing the system were hard enough, Lowndes was constantly confronted with additional hurdles. As she calls Microskin a "true innovation", there was no shortage of dodgy investors trying to capitalise on its potential in the development stage. Luckily, despite the huge legal costs, Lowndes had made sure her intellectual property was protected from the outset through handwritten agreements with people, as well as through formal trade marks and patents. So, her advice to potential innovators is: "If you’ve got a great idea, don’t share it with too many people. See if you can take it to the next level by yourself until you can’t go any further.

"No-one believed in me for many years. It’s only been in the last year-and-a-half—and we’ve been open for two years—that someone even acknowledged what I’m doing. There were a lot of comments like ‘you’ll never make it’, ‘what do you think you’re doing, you’re a dumb, stupid, blonde’, all these sorts of hurdles I had to jump.

"But I had a lot of dedication, passion, and understanding. I just had to forget about what I was up against and think about the people in need. It took me seven- and-a-half years from start to finish to get it onto the market—to be able to understand the human skin and reproduce skin colour. I’ve written three programs to reproduce and colour-correct the human skin, which has been the hardest challenge of my life, and to be able to understand how the skin performs and reacts with heat, cold, oil flows— there are many things you have to look into."

Once Lowndes had developed the system, she was able to secure a federal government grant under the COMET (Commercialising Emerging Technologies) scheme. While the $80,000 was certainly helpful, another benefit was the expertise that comes with the package through the COMET adviser. "Our adviser wants to be with us all the time, he’s onboard and behind us every step of the way, offering guidance and teaching us new ways to do business and new skills, and bringing other professional people in," she says.

Since then, Lowndes has been able to raise enough funds to match the government 50-50 for a top-up of the COMET grant, thanks largely to her award-winnings that total close to $20,000. But for all the assistance and sheer determination put into Microskin, when Lowndes first opened her doors to Microskin International in Brisbane in July 2005, she sat twiddling her thumbs. She’d hit another wall. Nobody knew about Microskin and she didn’t have a marketing budget. "So I phoned every TV station, every newspaper, I begged and pleaded but most people wouldn’t have anything to do with me. Then I got on A Current Affair and it started the ball rolling."

Active ImageThen, fate took Microskin to the next level. Her youngest son was in his first year at school when a teacher mentioned the father of another student was a top burns surgeon. Having not dealt too much with burns, but knowing she could help, Lowndes approached the surgeon and managed to score herself a presentation in front of 20 surgeons at the hospital where he worked. The response was positive and the hospital agreed to set up a clinical trial with 10 patients, half of which Lowndes had to fund. Again, with such little money to spare, more of Lowndes’ assets were sold, including a car she still hasn’t replaced, but she says it was well worth it. "We got overwhelming results, which have been published worldwide, and we had a teleconference with surgeons around the world presenting Microskin.

"It was all fate, and to myself I say that was my little gift and reward, and it means so much to me, especially when you see the reaction of the patients."

 Active Image


Business Growth

Microskin International now has 15 staff, with more than 600 patients coming through the doors from all over the world, thanks to the results of her clinical trial and word-of-mouth generated through various support groups for these skin conditions. There’s also been interest generated through winning awards such as the Australian Government Business Innovation category in the 2006 Telstra Business Woman of the Year Awards.

While Microskin is now starting to make money and interest is growing rapidly for this revolutionary system, Lowndes admits she still can’t relax. Social life? She doesn’t have one. Commitment to her family and growing Microskin are her priorities. "My husband and I made a deal with each other. We’ve never had a babysitter one day of the kids’ lives, and we don’t have friends. Not because we don’t want to, but because we don’t go out and socialise at all. We made a decision: when we work, we work, and when we’re at home, we’re with the children. We take them to their sporting activities ourselves, and we start work again once they go to bed at night."

Lowndes’ husband now also works in the business, which she says was scary because it meant they no longer had his pay cheque coming in, "but he does private work to keep us alive, and works for us full- time, so I’m slowly starting to let go of some obsessive and perfectionist strings," Lowndes confesses. "And I’ve got some amazing staff working with me now. I’ve trained them well and they’re totally dedicated."

But growing Microskin will always be on Lowndes’ shoulders. "We’re doing really well and we’re reaching our targets but everything goes back into the business." Lowndes’ goal, at the time of this interview, was to open Microskin clinics in Sydney and Melbourne within four months, and international expansion will be a big step forward this year. "We’re going to South Korea to set up in hospitals there, and I think this is going to be the starting point, financially, for Microskin to be able to take it to the world." Eventually Lowndes hopes to have the rights to the system licensed across the globe, and is starting with a company that has offices in San Francisco, Shanghai, and London, who located
Microskin through the COMET program.

Licensing the system within the next few years will mean Lowndes and family will eventually be able to enjoy a better lifestyle. "I want to take a backseat role in the business because I don’t want to be flying around the world without our children, and that’s what it’s going to come to," she says. "So we’d like to license it out, let other people run it while we update and move the product forward, and come up with other inventions."

* To find out 10 things you didn’t know about Linda Lowndes visit http://backend.dynamicbusiness.com

What do you think?

    Be the first to comment

Add a new comment

Guest Author

Guest Author

Dynamic Business has a range of highly skilled and expert guest contributors, from a wide range of businesses and industries.

View all posts