Dreaming of making millions

Founded in 2009 with the aim of creating a pillow that would be impervious to infection, Gabriel Scientific has seen its hermetically sealed pillow used in hospitals around Europe, but is not resting on its laurels and has ambitious growth plans, writes Trish Dromey

Dublin firm Gabriel Scientific is a small start-up company with very big plans. It has created the world’s first hermetically sealed pillow with a filter and is devising a strategy to develop sales on all five continents.

Selling under the brand SleepAngel, the pillow uses a patented PneumaPure filter technology to keep out bacteria, viruses, allergens, and all kinds of contaminants which can be found in ordinary pillows. Targeting sales to hospitals, hotels, and the retail sector, Gabriel Scientific aims to achieve global sales over the next five years.

Launched on the market in 2009, SleepAngel is now being used in hospitals in Scandinavia, Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland, as well as in the UK and Ireland.

“We are now in 50-plus hospitals with strong distribution partners in Europe and we are currently negotiating national tenders with the HSE and NHS,” says marketing manager Conor Stapleton.

Gaining credibility through adoption in the medical market has been a first step for Gabriel Scientific. The next is to go after the retail market and to market SleepAngel to the world’s estimated 235m asthma and allergy sufferers.

The company is retailing in Ireland in Shaws, Harvey Norman, Clerys, and Sam McCauley. “The retail sales effort was given a considerable boost when we were invited onto The Late Late Show. We have now started selling into John Lewis departments in the UK and are negotiating to sell to a Danish retail group with 92 stores, which would be our largest retail customer to date” says David Woolfson, the chief executive.

Meanwhile the company is fundraising, building up a network of distributors in the medical sector, negotiating with subcontractors in target markets, and is also holding discussions with retail operations in a variety of markets.

Mr Woolfson will be participating in the Enterprise Ireland visit to Japan in June and will also be visiting China, Australia, and the US.

Operating with a staff of eight, Gabriel Scientific is involved in ongoing R&D.

It has used its patented PneumaPure filter technology to develop mattresses and is working on a range of travel and veterinary products as well as wheelchair cushions. The potential for the use of the filter technology is such that Gabriel Scientific is discussing licensing its use to other companies for products it doesn’t intend making itself.

The winner of this year’s overall award at the IntertradeIreland innovation award, Gabriel Scientific this year received funding from Enterprise Ireland, which identified it as a High Potential Start-up in 2011.

The company has decided to seek further funding to develop the brand and scale up operations.

“There are huge opportunities open to us — our challenge now it to make the best use of them,” Mr Walsh said.

Gabriel Scientific was co-founded in 2009 by David Woolfson, who previously managed mattress company Kayfoam Woolfson, and Billy Navan, who continues to operate the medical supplies distribution company Clonliffe Healthcare.

When they set up the company they had already developed and patented the filter technology. Working in the medical supplies area they had observed that there was an EU standard for mattresses but none for pillows, and had decided to create a pillow which would be impervious to infection.

The technology which uses sophisticated filtration membranes was patented in 2008. Joined by biomedical engineer Duncan Bain, Mr Navan and Mr Woolfson used their own funding to set up Gabriel Scientific to commercialise the technology.

Once the product had been prototyped and finalised, the company sourced a specialist manufacturer in Lancashire which makes the pillows under contract. By 2010 Gabriel Scientific was ready to demonstrate its product with a view to establishing its efficacy in resisting infection.

Mr Navan was well placed through Clonliffe Healthcare to bring the product to the attention of the Irish medical market.

Registered as an EU Class I Medical Device, the pillow was evaluated at Cherry Orchard Hospital in Dublin and later went through clinical trials in a UK hospital.

“The results of the UK tests were delivered at an infection conference in London and as a result we got a full page of coverage in the London Times. This was a huge boost for us,” says finance director Paddy Walsh.

Since then, the company has developed a product suitable for the home use which retails at €69 and has participated in a number of international trade shows.

“Further investment will help us optimise the opportunity swiftly. We are considering the new Enterprise Investment Incentive Scheme or we could go for broke and go after venture capital,” says Mr Walsh.

Either way, he says the company intends to build volume and expand distribution channels internationally. The company is also negotiating with some subcontractors in target markets with a view to exporting the core product (the pillow cover with the PneumaPure filter) and having the pillows filled locally. One of the many options being looked at by Gabriel Scientific is the setting up of a US subsidiary.

Mr Walsh predicts multimillion sales within five years and says he expects the main market sector, in terms of volume, will be retail and that the largest single market is likely to be the US.

Fact file

* Company: Gabriel Scientific.

* Location: Dublin.

* Managing director: David Woolfson.

* Staff: 8.

* Product: Pillows withfilter technology to prevent contamination.

* website: www.pneumapure.com


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