We caught up with John Minto in 2020 to hear his story and how participating in the DigitalCity Scale programme helped him scale up and to hear his plans for growth.
With decades of experience under his belt John Minto realised that he was never too old to learn as he and his son expand their tech business Mintronics with the help of DigitalCity.
Where are you from and where were you educated?
Darlington-born, I lived in Hurworth, attending the local school before studying A-Levels at Egglescliffe Six Form College, Eaglescliffe, and an HND in business studies at Wolverhampton Polytechnic.
Describe your career path
I went into business with my father in non-destructive testing and heat treatment for welding. It was then I realised I was an entrepreneur. In 2004 I was working with a company that specialised in 3D CAD and in 2008 I set up Mintronics. I’d been becoming increasingly frustrated with work and saw an opportunity in the fast changing tech sector.
How did you come to launch your current business?
I was offered a chance to sell Alibre, a 3D CAD software, and developed database of thousands of customers, some of whom also paid for maintenance. It was a system that SMEs could buy without breaking the bank and use to compete with larger firms. Everything you see has to be designed in 3D. You pass potential customers as you drive along. 3D printers are the new tool of choice. You can design something, create an STL file and then use that in CAD or you can scan to create an STL file and 3D print that.
That was the basis of the business. I looked at the tech around 3D scanning, which is reverse engineering really. For instance, you can 3D scan anything, say a lamp, and use CAD to redesign and improve it; anything that has curves that you can’t measure, in fact. In 2019 I started working with a Chinese company which was more accurate and now I use this expertise to bundle different technologies together to give SMEs really powerful solutions to do anything in business they want at a fraction of the price.
What do you believe is the potential of your new business?
The potential is huge as the technology can be applied to virtually anything. I’ve had enquiries ranging from universities to hospitals. One of the scanners does the human form really well and they have been used to make compression masks for burns victims or prosthetics.
We’ve also had interest from racing team engineers and the automotive business, including classic car restoration where the parts are no longer available and have to be made. This doesn’t even require complete parts as the computer technology will fill in what is missing. We can also help model engineers. They tend to be of an age where, at school, there were no computers, so we have been doing six-month tutorials to help them learn how to use 3D CAD and have trained 950 people so far. There’s even a cut-down hobbyist version of the equipment and they can upgrade this later. It’s amazing tech at prices they can afford.
How did you hear about DigitalCity’s Scale programme?
For me, it’s all about leaving a legacy for my family and other young people. I want to leave something that I can be proud of and to help SMEs realise their full potential. At this stage of my life I could’ve easily just sat back with a nice little business but I decided to go the other way. So I went on the Scale programme because I still believe, even with all my experience, that I can always learn something.
Scaling up is more difficult than running a company as resources are stretched. It’s much more challenging so I thought spending some time with DigitalCity experts would be helpful. It’s been great and I’ve changed some of the ways I work as a result. I’ve made mistakes in the past and they can cost you a lot of money. I wanted to do it differently this time. The DigitalCity experience has been good for me and I completed another course shortly after my time on Scale with Teesside University called Pitch Perfect. The University has been a brilliant resource on my doorstep.
Where do you see the company going in the future?
I am looking for funding at the moment to develop the company even further. My aim is to develop a 3D centre of excellence for Darlington or Stockton encompassing 3D software, sales and technology, including 3D scanners and printers, with an annual turnover of £1m.
Offices and a showroom would be available for on-site training, sales and contract work. I want to embrace new technology, as well as increase market penetration and employ more staff to the three existing full-time workers and one part-timer we have at the moment.
We want to stage events where people can physically come in and pick up the pieces of kit, they can talk to our engineers, they can describe their needs and we can work out their requirements so they don’t waste money on the wrong kit for their needs. They can feel it, smell it, touch it and ask questions all day long.
Would you recommend working with DigitalCity at any stage of a company’s development?
I would recommend working with DigitalCity and Teesside University; David Dixon has been brilliant. We can all learn more and hopefully avoid making mistakes and we can improve the way we communicate with people.