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06 • Profile


Entrepreneur David Stone was still a dental student when he spotted an opportunity to launch his own business. He tells SoundBite about his success


F you’re going to have a ‘eureka moment’ that leads to a successful business idea or invention, then it would probably be best not to have it while you’re studying to be a dentist. After all, this is not one of those courses where students don’t have to show up until there’s an exam to sit. But then the thing about sudden flashes of inspiration is just that –

they’re sudden and unexpected. So when David Stone, while in his third year of dentistry at

Cardiff University, realised there was a gaping hole in the student market for loupes – magnifying lenses to help see into a patient’s mouth more clearly – the timing of his discovery was perhaps not ideal. He had been suffering from a bad back – one of the banes of

a dental career, with musculoskeletal problems a major cause of early retirement – and was looking for a way to ease the situation. “It was in my third year of this five-year course,” he says, “and I thought to myself loupes seemed like a good idea. They’re magnified so you don’t have to lean in quite as far to see in great detail what you’re doing.” Coupled with this, he had

also noticed that whenever his dental restoration work on one of the dental school’s phantom heads was checked by one of two supervisors, it was the person wearing the loupes who picked up his mistakes more clearly. So here was a chance to kill two birds with one stone, he thought. But when he started

some of his friends tried them out and decided that they would like a pair too, so he bought five more and passed them on at cost price. Loupes take some getting used to and they do make you

look “a little geeky”, says David, but nevertheless he noticed that the arrival of several pairs in the phantom head room sparked considerable interest, far beyond what he was used to seeing on the once-a-year visit from the loupes salesperson. He identified two reasons for this: the much lower price and also the fact that fellow students could try them out for more than just a few minutes, with no urgency to buy there and then. That’s when he had his eureka moment. “It was at that point

that I thought, hang on, there’s no end of dental students in Cardiff!” And so, in 2009, his firm UKloupes was born. He bought some more pairs – “They got snapped up” – and

investigating the possibility with a loupes sales representative who was visiting the university, he was struck by the price. The loupes themselves were around £800 but, more importantly, it was the cost of the parts that grabbed his attention. He explains: “Whenever I go to buy anything, I try and work out what’s going to break and how much it’s going to cost to fix. So I asked how much it would cost to replace the arm of the frames. When she said £250, I thought, that seems like a hell of a lot of money for a bracket with a hinge.”

Affordable solution David loved to haggle and had taken on street sellers from India to Morocco, and now the barterer within took over. But instead of trying to drive down the selling price in this instance, he went on the hunt for affordable loupes. Through the internet, he found a manufacturer that made loupes that were fit for purpose – and at a fraction of the price. Then

“David hit upon the idea of supplying his own loupes to fellow students while seeking an affordable solution to his back pain.”

then a few more, and fairly soon, with a handful of loupes at the ready in his hospital locker for potential buyers to try out a week at a time, he noticed that something of a trend had begun. “The more the dental students wore them around the hospital, the more other people were looking at them and saying, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t mind having a go’, without even coming to see me first. They would then say to me, ‘I tried John’s pair – can I just have some exactly like his?’”

Growing success He knew he was onto something when even

some of the lecturers and visiting dentists, intrigued by the sudden popularity of loupes, bought from him. At this point, David was only selling his loupes locally and

found that with some judicious time management he was easily able to keep up with his studies. “I didn’t struggle too much. I was a mature student, as I’d done a degree in biology before, and I was a little bit better at managing my time than other students. And yes,” he says, “I was still out there doing normal student things and having fun!” But when he started getting enquiries from further afield,

he knew he was going to need help. One of David’s gripes about the dental course was the lack of business training, particularly as so many dentists go on to run their own practices, essentially setting up in business. Some of his lecturers sympathised with him but said there were ethical implications. “The course had to teach us how to fix teeth and not how to fix teeth with a view

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