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The need for speed: racing to build a business during Covid-19

Ivan and Alan Eustace

As a longtime runner, there’s something about starting a business that makes it feel like a marathon and a sprint all rolled into one. The buzz and endorphin rush you feel as you’re pounding the pavement, or when the finish line approaches, is actually pretty close to what it’s like when a business you’ve set up hits a particular milestone or reaches a goal you’d set.

 

Except that I was never planning to be in the race.

 

When we started in March, we weren’t thinking of this as a business opportunity. For us, it was just about finding a way to help and to give back during a public health crisis. All of us who founded Stay Safe Masks had families directly affected by Covid-19. We had long-standing manufacturing contacts in the Far East, so it made sense to see if we could source much-needed PPE and medical masks for frontline healthcare workers.

 

But when sourcing and supply became a problem, we had a decision to make, and fast. Time was against us, and we didn’t have the luxury of waiting around for products. The logistics of sourcing good-quality face masks and getting them back to Ireland was proving to be a nightmare. Even now, the supply line from Asia is still heavily compromised.

 

So, needing to react quickly, we decided to manufacture here in Ireland. This was all about ensuring speed to market. At the same time, the public health advice was moving towards recommending wearing face masks to cover the nose and mouth in settings like crowded areas, or on public transport. So it was becoming clear that people would need masks in large numbers, without taking away from the supply of PPE into the healthcare system.

 

Now that we’re in the middle of unlocking a lockdown, businesses are planning to reopen, and they want to make sure they’re protecting people when they return to the workplace.

 

Within weeks, we had created the lineup and the initial range of masks, and by the middle of May, we were ready to launch. If I stop to think back on what it was like to launch a business 15 or 20 years ago, the difference in pace has been incredible.

The learning curve has been just as rapid. Personally, I enjoy the feeling of being outside my comfort zone. Having worked in consumer electronics for years, and more recently in cycling apparel, which I’m very familiar with, it’s been invigorating to deal with the challenge of pivoting to a completely different industry like face masks.

 

Improvements in manufacturing technology have played a big part in increasing speed to market. Manufacturing in Ireland has proved to be way more flexible compared to the rigid, and long, supply chain from China. We’re now dealing in days and hours, compared to weeks and months.

 

What’s unique about producing the face masks in Ireland is that we’ve been able to rapidly customise to cater for the demand from retailers like Fresh, Spar and Maxol, and that’s proved to be a huge selling point. We started with a 50-unit bulk pack, but some of our customers started asking if we could produce individually wrapped masks. So we did.

 

We can produce bundles of three, five or seven masks, and we can even do dual-branded packaging at much lower numbers than we could if we were ordering and producing out of the Far East. I remember back when we were producing consumer electronics out of China, the minimum order runs were in the tens of thousands. The pace of change has been incredible, and at the same time, there’s an amazing sense of achievement that comes from doing it all here in Ireland.

 

When I think back to the mid-2000s, we started producing the Leaf, an iPhone case made from a recyclable polymer. We tried to make it completely in Ireland. At the time, there just wasn’t the same manufacturing knowhow that they had in Asia. Since then, there’s been a lot of collaboration and knowledge transfer, and the machinery, tooling and automation have helped to change the game.

 

What’s more, it feels like we’re tapping into a tremendous amount of goodwill towards local business. One of the trends that emerged out of the pandemic was a sense that we’re in this together, and a willingness to support Irish businesses.

 

All of us on the Stay Safe Masks team have been feeling that buzz, and that energy. Even though we’ve been working remotely, the enthusiasm still comes through on the video conferences and the calls. And as any runner will tell you, the encouragement of the crowd and your team-mates is a huge motivation to keep the pace going, no matter where you are on the course. Now, we’re starting to think about a UK market launch, so our race still has some way to run.

Contact Ivan@mystaysafe.com

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My Stay Safe launch Irish made protective face masks

woman on a bus wearing a face mask

New Irish-made face masks come to market in time for easing of restrictions.

A new Irish company, StaySafe Masks, is launching high-quality face masks to help people get ready for the reopening of businesses and easing of restrictions that were put in place to slow the spread of Covid-19. 

Made in Ireland using new manufacturing equipment, the masks are available to buy now. They are intended for consumers who want to wear them for travelling on public transport, doctor’s visits or in the workplace. 

StaySafe is also launching a social media campaign to donate 1,000 free masks to a deserving cause every week for the next four weeks. To enter, customers simply upload a photo showing themselves wearing their StaySafe mask together with the StaySafe box, to Instagram, Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #mystaysafeselfie. A winner will be chosen every week and StaySafe will donate the masks to that person’s chosen charity or good cause. 

The StaySafe mask is highly breathable, splash-resistant, and made of a soft non-woven material to make it as comfortable as possible. The CE-certified product has a polypropylene filter with a bacterial filtration rate of more than 98%. When sold in bulk packs, the masks are available individually wrapped, to avoid the risk of contamination before use. 

The five company principals behind Stay Safe Masks, John McHugh, Ivan Eustace, Mark Gibbons, Ed Corkery and Alan Eustace, are experienced business people and entrepreneurs with backgrounds in consumer electronics, retail, supply chain management and quality management. 

Having originally tried to source masks through manufacturers in the Far East, they pivoted in April 2020 and began developing manufacturing capacity in Ireland. They invested in new manufacturing capacity to ensure consistency of supply while maintaining oversight of quality. All packaging and design has also been sourced from Ireland. 

“We wanted to produce an affordable, highly effective face mask to bridge the gap between homemade masks and medical equipment. This is a convenient, consumer product and is different to N95 or FFP2 masks that frontline healthcare workers need,” said Stay Safe co-founder John McHugh. 

“From personal experience, we all saw the difficulties in sourcing PPE so that’s why we invested in brand-new manufacturing capability here in Ireland, so we wouldn’t be affecting the supply of much-needed equipment into hospitals or nursing homes,” Ivan Eustace added.  

Stay Safe Masks are available to order online from http://www.mystaysafe.ie. The company is in talks with supermarket chains, convenience stores and other retailers. It also plans to provide bulk orders to business premises with high footfall. A bulk pack of 50 masks is available for €49.99 and shipping is free. 

Independent research conducted by the University of Arizona* has shown that face masks are highly effective at reducing contagion and protecting others. Ireland’s chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has also suggested that face coverings may form part of the response measures as the restrictions ease. 

For more information, visit http://mystaysafe.ie 

Press enquiries: John McHugh: john@mystaysafe.com 

Note for editors: 

A team of researchers at Arizona State University developed mathematical models to test for face mask wearing, using cases from January to April 2020. Their study, published in the Journal of Infectious Disease Modeling, found face masks “can meaningfully reduce community transmissions of COVID-19 and decrease peak hospitalisations and deaths”.