Like a lot of kids, Paddy Healy loved taking things apart. Unlike most of them he also liked putting them back together. This fascination for how things work, or don't work, is Healy's livelihood. His day job is the repair and maintenance of critical life support machines at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.
In his spare time Healy designs things and in 2013 when he discovered he was going to become a dad to twins, he began taking a serious interest in baby alarms. Unimpressed by what was available, he started designing his own. The result, which is now undergoing extensive testing, will go on sale in about 18 months’ time.
The big difference between most existing monitors and Healy’s design is that his product is wearable.
The tiny monitoring unit sits in a pocket inside a specially made vest so it’s working wherever the baby is, not just in its cot. The device monitors breathing, temperature, and provides a medical grade electrocardiogram. Over time it becomes familiar with a baby’s unique habits thereby cutting down on false alarms.
“The one product we needed for the twins that really caught my attention was the baby monitor,” Healy says. “There are so many with varying features and prices and on inspection none that would adequately monitor twins. For example, if the babies shared a cot with current monitors one baby could set off both breathing sensors thereby masking a problem with the other baby.
“My idea was to design a monitor that parents would be happy to leave on their baby at all times. It needed to be comfortable and not to interfere with their development or activities.
“This led me to the fast-growing technology of wearable products. All babies wear vests and I could see no situation, other than in the bath, when they wouldn’t so my solution is a baby vest with integrated sensors.”
Healy’s background is electronics and design engineering and in 2005 he graduated with a master’s degree in clinical engineering. In 2011, he started a business in his own time offering a product design service in the northeast.
"My goal with SuPa Designs was to take people's ideas and help them develop and produce them to at least a working prototype," he says. "But I also had my own ideas and . . . I became very interested in wearables.
"I also took part in the New Frontiers entrepreneurs programme at Dundalk IT and during this I realised that licensing was probably the way forward for someone like me."
Sales and distribution
Healy has since licensed his baby monitor product to Co Down-based baby products company
. It already has a well-established sales and distribution base and sells to major retailers such as
Healy estimates he spent about €3,000 over three years developing the monitor. He knew it was a major step forward in its field but the big question was how to make the jump from test bench to market.
He found the help he needed to bridge the gap through the Northern Ireland-based Special EU Programmes Body. It manages cross-border EU Structural Funds programmes in the North and border counties and has an initiative called Vital that links people with innovative business ideas to SMEs and entrepreneurs in the region.
"Kieran Fegan the programme director of Vital felt we would be a perfect match with Shnuggle and indeed a great relationship has developed," Healy says.
"Shnuggle's owner, Adam Murphy, has mentored me along the way helping me get up to speed on the business side of things.
“My plan now is to seek funding or another partnership to develop other wearable products based on the same core technology.”