Former winners of innovation awards: where are they now?
With just a week left before the announcement of this year’s Irish Times InterTradeIreland awards ceremony, we look back at how two previous overall winners have fared
Trustwater chief executive Edmond O’Reilly (centre) with ‘The Irish Times’ InterTradeIreland 2013 Innovation Overall Winner Award. Also pictured (from left) are Thomas Hunter McGowan, chief executive of InterTradeIreland, Liam Kavanagh, managing director, ‘The Irish Times’, Kevin Keane (Trustwater) and Chris Horn, founder of IONA Technologies.
2012: Gabriel Scientific
Having won the overall Irish Times InterTradeIreland Innovation Award 2012, successfully entering new markets in Europe, Asia-Pacific and North America, raising funding through the EIIS scheme, and more than doubling sales in 2013 it comes as somewhat of a surprise to hear Gabriel Scientific CEO David Woolfson mention the mistakes the company has made rather than concentrating on its successes.
“The innovation award was very important to us particularly in markets in the Far East where these things are seen as very important,” he notes. “The calibre of the sponsors is also enormously important and carries a lot of weight. The award got us onto the radio and the Late Late Show and that boosted domestic sales greatly. But we have faced real challenges and made a few mistakes along the way.”
The challenges mainly centred on the broad appeal of the company’s product – the Sleep Angel pillow which significantly reduces exposure to allergens for people asleep in bed at need as well as lowering the risk of patients contracting hospital-acquired infections (HAI), such as MRSA, from lying on contaminated bedding. The pillow uses a membrane that is normally employed as a filter in heart stents to keep out bacteria, and is sealed by melting the edges together rather than sewn.
“Because we have a product with global appeal which crosses sectors such as the consumer, medical, and hotel markets one of the lessons we have had to learn is that despite the exciting potential we have to forego a lot of prospects to keep our focus”, says Woolfson. “I had been involved in exporting with my family business, Kayfoam Woolfson, but I had never experienced such a level of demand from prospective partners and customers in such a variety of markets. We had to bring in the skills to help us with that and we got it wrong a couple of times. This meant we wasted quite a bit of time before we started to get it right.”
The turning point came back in November 2012 when he travelled to the US in the company of a businessperson with a wide range of senior contacts in the medical and retail sectors. “We got great introductions on that trip and while no one said no to us they all had questions and we came back to Ireland with a lot of homework to do.”
This homework was mainly in the areas of product design, range, packaging and marketing.
“The product itself and its packaging looked as if it had been designed by three blokes, which it had been. Also, the packaging wasn’t very consumer friendly in look or in what it said. There are too many good things to say about the product and consumers don’t have the bandwidth to absorb them all. The data we were presenting was also too technical. Also, we were only offering a pillow and we were told that we should be applying the same technology to other cushioning devices such as mattresses. We knew if we wanted to play in the top division that we had to address all of those things.”