The Beauty of the Skin Industry
SkinData aims to develop products for skin pigmentation, photoageing and inflammation, using naturally-sourced, active pharmaceutical-grade compounds that are put through rigorous testing.
The founder of SkinData Ltd, Dr Shuting Hu, did her PhD and postdoc at HKU on molecular pathways and new ingredients for skin whitening, thinking academia would be her future. And it might have been had it not been for the foresight of her supervisor, Dr Mingfu Wang of the School of Biological Sciences.
He encouraged Dr Hu to present her research at an academic conference while she was still studying for her doctorate. With support and funding from HKU, she attended the International Federation of Societies of Cosmetic Scientists conference in 2013 and won the award for best scientific paper by an author under age 40 – and in the process, attracted great interest from international cosmetic companies interested in developing skincare ingredients from her findings.
"This showed me that my research was of great commercial value, not just academic, and that our technology was of a high level. It validated my research," she said. But the companies moved slowly. After completing her PhD in 2014 and postdoc in 2015, there were few signs of practical commercialisation of her research. So Dr Hu took matters into her own hands, again with the encouragement of Dr Wang, to start up her own company.
SkinData aims to develop products for skin pigmentation, photoageing and inflammation, using naturally-sourced, active pharmaceutical-grade compounds that are put through rigorous testing. It has received valuable support from HKU's Technology Transfer Office (TTO), which helped her to successfully apply for a place in the HKU Science Park Incubation Programme and for TSSSU@HKU funding.
Dr Hu said that funding had bought time for the company to develop its products, rather than feel pressured to sell its intellectual property. The TTO has also provided help in filing patents and protecting their IP, and introduced them to investors and other useful contacts.
The plan now is to focus on designing and licensing patented products to cosmetic firms. In the longer term, the company may consider developing its own brand although this will need considerable investment.
Dr Hu said she was grateful for all the support she had received at HKU. "I had a good supervisor and good support from the TTO. I was actually expecting the TTO to be bureaucratic but they have been very helpful to me," she said. "I have learned a lot. It's much more difficult than I expected to start up this company because it's so different from my experience in academia, but there are many opportunities here."