START UPS INVENTORS: Necessity is the mother of invention. BRIAN O’CONNELL hears from people who have set up new companies in one of the toughest economic climates imaginable, while Irish inventors tell ÁINE KERR about their new big ideas. (Published in The Irish Times 14th January 2012)
Sleepless nights interspersed with days of frenetic energy have been the norm lately for two men driven by one simple aim: to train people to wash their hands thoroughly. “Some days are just rolling with you and other days, you are pulling your hair out and trying to figure out how we get to the next stage. There are always frustrations, but we feel we are moving, albeit slowly, in the right direction,” says Sean Bay of SureWash.
Bay and Gerard Lacey claim to have found the answer to containing contagious viruses in hospitals and reducing high absenteeism rates in large companies using a mobile machine based on gaming technology. And they have the patents in Europe and the US to prove that they have come up with something special.
Their invention centres on something akin to Wii for hand hygiene – an interactive video camera capturing hand movements in real time, motion sensors and a step-by-step check list of tasks. Except this one is based on seven strict poses drawn up by the World Health Organisation (WHO). There is real-time feedback, as the Wii-like device checks whether all seven poses have been completed.
When the pair first discussed the product during a coffee break in Smurfit College five years ago, the statistics before them were stark. Some 140,000 people die in Europe every year because of an infection picked up in hospital. Up to 50 per cent of these are transferred by hand.
The stats on the other side were equally stunning: improved hand hygiene can reduce Healthcare Associated Infections (HCAIs) by 50 per cent and absenteeism by up to 40 per cent in large, highly populated companies.
“Nobody has anything like this . . . that’s a buzz, that from a small office in Dublin, we can take this worldwide. There is nothing stopping us,” says Bay. “We have a huge capacity to earn value for the country and build a reputation for reaching out, as a small Irish company, to work very well in a bigger environment.”