Innovation done write for bacteria-resistant stationery

09 November 2022

Engineers from the University of Sheffield AMRC unleashed their design and development expertise to support a germ-resistant stationery business in bringing new products to market, which has since secured a deal with one of the UK’s largest suppliers to schools and universities.

Article featured in the latest issue of the AMRC Journal.

Bio 5 is a Sheffield-based start-up which specialises in stationery products that boast antimicrobial properties. Its product range includes a triform pencil, a sharpener and eraser combo, and a folding ruler. As part of Bio 5’s growth plans, the company wanted to bring forward new product ideas but limited resources meant they weren’t able to develop them to the stage where they could be manufactured and marketed. 

The company turned to the AMRC for help, which as part of the national High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult network of research centres, provides funded support to small and medium-sized businesses. Over the course of two years, research engineers from the AMRC delivered product development to Bio 5 through 3D modelling and prototyping, helping the company take its brilliant ideas for new stationery and turn sketches into 3D models that could be manufactured. 

Bio 5 now has a contract with YPO, which supplies products to schools, colleagues, universities and councils to name a few; and a store on Amazon. The company also has eyes on the wider retail sector with negotiations underway that include a luxury department store.

Alistair Wheatley, co-founder of Bio 5 and managing director of the business, said the AMRC was a huge support and ‘the catalyst to making the project work’ in its early stages.

He said: “We asked for help on our product development and the AMRC jumped on it straight away and were magnificent. They were a huge support and couldn’t do enough to help us with lots of help and advice. They were the catalyst to making the project work in the early stage and we hope they will help out in the future also with further product design.

“The AMRC was the first platform to turn our ideas and paper drawing concepts into reality. The impact of this has meant we have been able to show the physical product before it is even manufactured and help capture the customers’ imagination with a physical product they can touch, feel and use. Also it has helped us show other manufacturers what we are looking for in terms of their support.”

On securing the deal with YPO, Alistair said: “Considering the reach and size of YPO we are super proud to be in their catalogue and see so many people - children and adults alike - benefit from our products. We are also proud of the fact we have an Amazon store too and we’re now making inroads into the European market.”

John Spencer, senior project manager at the AMRC, explained that Bio 5 had two areas of need which it didn’t have the capability to undertake in-house. The first was the design of an antimicrobial pen; the second was to create a superhero ‘robot’ character able to hold a pencil and rubber that would deliver a double hit of appealing to schoolchildren and raise awareness of the importance of hygiene - a key part of the company’s marketing strategy.

“Bio 5 approached the AMRC with some great product ideas but limited resources to develop them to the stage where they could be manufactured and marketed,” said John. 

“The AMRC was able to provide a HVM Catapult-funded five-day design assist and further ad-hoc support to help the team with product development, which would otherwise have been inaccessible to the business.  

“We are delighted that Bio 5 has been able to secure deals to stock their stationery and that we have been able to help another Sheffield-based start-up.” 

AMRC design engineer Valdis Krumins, who worked on the project, added: “It has been wonderful to see and support the growth of the Bio5 brand. We had the opportunity to contribute in converting some of the artwork into manufacturable 3D models which have helped the brand to reach its constantly growing fan base.”  

Bio 5 was borne out of a chance discussion between co-founders Wayne Leigh, a creative visionary with a longstanding experience in the stationery sector, and Alistair Wheatley, who at the time was managing a business which made artificial joint replacement. 

That conversation -  which was about the antimicrobial qualities of using silver in joint replacements and how those same principles could potentially make the humble school stationery set more hygienic - changed everything. The two gents’ germ of an idea set them on the path to creating ‘a stationery company with a difference’ - one that would use patented silver biocide technology to give all of its products lifetime antimicrobial surface protection.

Furthermore, its products are made using innovative and environmentally-friendly materials and are designed and manufactured in the UK. 

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