WHEN his mother Sunila was diagnosed with liver disease, Asanka De Silva was shocked and confused. After all, she was teetotal.

It turned out Sunila had non-alcohol fatty liver disease, an increasingly common condition in the UK which is often brought on by lifestyle factors including poor diet and lack of exercise.

While doing research to understand more about the disease, Mr De Silva spotted a gap in the market for a health drink that could reduce the risk and the idea for his company, LiverHealth UK, was born.

Sixteen months later the former marketing manager launched the antioxidant, low-calorie coffee-based drink LivOn!, and the business is going from strength to strength online after attracting support from health charities The Liver Group and Liver 4 Life. The business also has a philanthropic framework, with 6 per cent of every sale going to liver research.

“Only 38 per cent of liver disease in the UK is attributed to alcohol,” explains the Edinburgh-based businessman. “There is also a stigma attached to this type of illness because it is misunderstood - that's why I want to help normalise the conversation around liver disease, and my product will help this process.

“Brands like Benecol have helped us prevent and tackle high cholesterol and I see LivOn! as a similar type of mainstream product that is targeted both at those who know they could be at risk of liver disease and people who are trying to live healthier lives.”

Mr De Silva, a Sri Lankan who has lived in Scotland for 13 years, wasn’t the only one who saw the potential – both commercially and medically - in his idea, and he has successfully attracted funding from a range of private investors. His chief scientific officer, meanwhile, is one of Italy’s top liver specialists.

Over the next few years he hopes to bring LiveOn! to a wider audience through deals with a major retailers, growing both the business and much-needed funds for liver research in the process.

The 40-year-old spent 17 years in marketing for big corporate companies such as Coca-Cola and Famous Grouse and admits setting up his own business forced him to rethink some of the corporate strategies he took for granted.

“I have certainly unlearned a lot,” he smiles. “That’s been one of the hardest things, constantly reminding myself that I need to unlearn some of the ingrained ways of working with big brands that doesn’t fit for start-up companies. I’ve made many mistakes over last two years – most not too costly – but that’s all part of the process.

“I’ve also learned how to negotiate better. I had some formal training in negotiation but when you work for a big company you start from the quote and work down. When you’re a start-up you don’t have any money - you ask far more questions about cost, start at the bottom and work up.”

As for advice he would offer budding entrepreneurs, Mr De Silva recommends talking to as many experts and industry professionals as possible before launching your product or service.

“Talk to people and ask for help,” he said. “I’ve been amazed by the people who have given me their time and helped me get to market. I’ve not had to pay anyone for medical advice and have been so surprised by the willingness of others to offer support. But you have to be open to receiving that help.

“There are always ups and downs, but for personal connection to my product keeps me going. I also feel sense of responsibility to my shareholders. They’ve placed a lot of trust in me and I have responsibility to make the most of the opportunity they’ve given me. That’s what gets me through the hard times.”

And what does the inspiration behind the business, his mother back in Sri Lanka, make of her son’s entrepreneurial spirit and skills?

“Until quite recently she was telling me to get a ‘real’ job,” he laughs. “But once she held the bottle in her hand she could really see what I am trying to achieve. She’s very proud of me.”