Strategy, Legal & Operations

Advanced Hygiene Technologies: ‘I took a leap of faith and now we’re helping people stay safe’

The CEO of Advanced Hygiene Technologies reveals how his firm is making a difference during the coronavirus pandemic.

In our Your Story series, we speak to business owners about the challenges they’re facing and the steps they’re taking to overcome them. Conor McGauran is CEO and founder of Advanced Hygiene Technologies. Here, he talks about how his state-of-the-art handwashing technology business is helping people to stay safe during the coronavirus outbreak.

My company, Advanced Hygiene Technologies, is the exclusive Ireland/UK distributor for CleanTech automated handwashing technology from US company Meritech.

The unique thing about CleanTech is that it’s soap and water handwashing (the gold standard for pathogen removal, including coronavirus), but completely washes the hands for the user. It removes more than 99.9% of pathogens and is touch-free, with no taps or soap dispensers.

Effective hand hygiene is impossible to achieve with manual handwashing, due to the difficulty of completing a 13-action procedure properly on a consistent basis.

CleanTech washes the hands for the user in just 12 seconds, rather than the 20 plus seconds it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice. And, as well as saving on time, it uses 70% less water and waste, making it an environmentally sustainable technology.

Making good luck happen

After many years working in large and small companies, I set up Advanced Hygiene Technologies in 2018.

While setting up my own company was a big leap of faith for myself and my family, I’ve always been drawn to being my own boss.

And with four sports-mad children, who constantly need to be taxied to training and matches, I wanted to do less overseas travelling and spend more time at home. However, the overriding motive for making such a move was that I knew I had found a product that could deliver results for years to come.

With the upheaval of coronavirus, it looks like serendipity was on my side. But this was not just about serendipity, it was about grabbing an opportunity.

I met the CEO of Meritech by chance at a food safety conference where he was exhibiting CleanTech, and I was immediately impressed by it being 100% touch-free and taking just 12 seconds.

Having personal knowledge of the pharmaceutical sector etc, I knew how ground breaking it was.

And, as luck would have it, Meritech was starting to look at international growth, via distributors. I offered to connect them with potential partners in Ireland.

“No one could have expected this pandemic to hit our society so hard, but it has opened doors for the company”

But once I came home and discussed it with my wife, who had worked for more than 10 years in quality systems in the medical device industry, we began considering getting involved ourselves. Roll on two years and Advanced Hygiene Technologies became the exclusive distributor for Meritech in Ireland and the UK.

My past experience across a variety of sectors (healthcare, pharmaceuticals, medical technologies, food) – including three years in Boston with IDA Ireland, where I advised companies on setting up operations in Ireland – brought me to this point.

My experience of advising companies on business opportunities has shaped Advanced Hygiene Technologies’ growth strategy. I understood that a lot of things have to come together for international expansion to be successful.

You never know what’s ahead

No one could have expected this pandemic to hit our society so hard, but it has opened doors for the company.

Before coronavirus, most of my customers were within core industries such as healthcare, biotech, medtech, pharma, food manufacturing or hospitality sectors, where there is a legal requirement for effective personal hygiene.

But even within this segment, following from the pandemic, companies are much more willing to invest in quality devices.

As a result, we now have CleanTech installations in HSE COVID-19 assessment hubs and in the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research & Training (NIBRT), as well as numerous life sciences, food manufacturing, hospitality and healthcare locations.

Before this, outside these core industries, people didn’t really understand the product and I’d often see their eyes glaze over as I explained enthusiastically about its benefits.

Not so anymore – people totally get it.

Consequently, the market for our product has expanded and we’re receiving enquiries, for instance, from large public office operators, factories and education.

Like it or not, the future is digital

The one major drawback right now is the inability to give in-person demos. This has meant we, like many other businesses, have had to pivot to a more digitally focused marketing and sales strategy.

This is not without its challenges, particularly when we get best results from physical demonstrations of CleanTech.

However, we recently finalised a large sale of units to a chain of cinemas in England that was totally executed via digital means.

So I now know it can be done.

While it may be scary trying to reinvent your business in a digital way, it has to be done – business is changing forever as a result of the coronavirus.

Digital is going to play a huge part in developing our business. It will be deployed heavily in marketing, online conferences, lead generation and sales, as well as the usual areas such as operations and administration.

Understand how to leverage opportunities

We’ve not applied for any government coronavirus grants or resources. However, we would be keen to see the government supporting companies or businesses looking to invest in CleanTech.

We are heading into a new normal, where proper handwashing will play a key role in protecting workers and the general public from coronavirus, and many other harmful infections like the flu and norovirus (the winter vomiting bug).

“While it may be scary trying to reinvent your business in a digital way, it has to be done”

In light of this, we’re encouraging our potential clients to be aware of government resources that could potentially help them with sourcing the funding to pay for CleanTech technology.

For instance, there is a new Restart grant scheme that provides payments of between €2,000 and €10,000 to small businesses to help meet their costs of reopening after the lockdown.

It’s targeted at companies with a turnover of less than €5m and fewer than 50 employees, and is administered through the local authorities.

Have a clear, mapped-out strategy

When deciding on setting up Advanced Hygiene Technologies, I set out a number of key criteria that had to be met in order for it to have a long-term future:

  • Technology reliability
  • Track record of success
  • Credibility of claims and superiority compared with other solutions.

CleanTech met and exceeded my expectations in all of them.

I developed a simple, concise and clear business plan for the development of the company, with milestones based around customer numbers in the various sectors. To date, we have achieved all of those milestones.

The plan is to continue on this path, developing the business across Ireland and the UK.

My top three takeaways

1. Listen to your doubts and ask for advice

In business, it’s natural to have doubts at times. But it’s always better to face those doubts and work your way through them systematically. Otherwise, doubts can eat away at your confidence, stunting growth and opportunity.

And when you’re having doubts, ask for advice from people you trust.

You are not alone in the challenges and opportunities you face, and other companies and people have been through it before – you need to tap into that.

People are more than happy to help with advice if they can and I’ve benefited so much from this in growing Advanced Hygiene Technologies.

2. Prepare and plan, but don’t get paralysis by analysis

Preparation is key to success, but procrastination can also kill your business. Though ‘what if’ scenario analysis is helpful in deciding on next steps, it’s easy to get bogged down in analysis that can ultimately cripple decision making.

If you find yourself going over scenarios again and again and wondering which path to take, you are going to prevent yourself from making any decisions.

If you face your doubts and get good advice, then trust yourself to make the right decision. Worst case scenario, you can learn from it and put it down to experience.

3. The importance of perseverance and patience

Companies always take a lot longer to build than ever envisaged or planned for; mostly because the world is a busy place, with lots of priorities competing for attention and budget.

Therefore, to succeed, I would say it takes equal balance of perseverance and patience – perseverance in never giving up and persisting with the mission, and patience in understanding that customers have to take time in making decisions to invest.

And even when they decide they want to invest, they can still be delayed in delivering the all-important order confirmation.

So, keep persevering and be as patient as possible.

Conor McGauran was talking to Róisín Killeen.

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