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Covid’s Unexpected Impact on Hand Hygiene Innovation

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Orbel Health device

We talked to Adam Sutcliffe, Founder and Chairman of Orbel Health, the manufacturers of a unique personal, portable and habitual, hand sanitizer device. Here is what he said about it.

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times? 

Adam Sutcliffe: Everyone is well and thriving; thank you, however, looking forward to being out of lockdown!

Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Orbel?

Adam Sutcliffe: I exist, both as a human and a Designer, to improve people’s lives. This passion for Human Centred Design (HCD) has led me throughout my career as I moved through digital, via management consultancy, into industrial design and beyond. Orbel was conceived while I was studying for an MA at the Royal College of Art, London. We were given a brief to find a problem and solve it. So the obvious place for me to go hunting for problems was the place where most lives are affected – a hospital. While at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, London, I became aware that Hospital Acquired Infections (HAIs) such as MRSA resulted in a lot of unnecessary deaths and massively increased the financial burden on an already stressed NHS. So I investigated further and discovered that dirty hands were the primary mechanism of transfer of HAIs, yet healthcare workers weren’t cleaning their hands. This is despite being constantly reminded to do so. So I felt the issue must be an HCD one. Perhaps no one had considered designing from the human outwards. So that’s exactly what I did, and that is how Orbel came into existence. It’s designed with the user’s wants, needs, desires, issues, and environment at its core. The result is an easy-to-use, pleasurable-to-use, habit-forming device that saves lives.

I founded Orbel shortly after graduating from the RCA and have been Chairman for around 3 years.

How does Orbel innovate? 

Adam Sutcliffe: At the moment, innovation is very much needs led. We’re a relatively small company that is scaling up quite quickly. As a result, we spend a lot of time listening to our users and our customers to understand their needs – which we then respond to. So we’re very much reacting to need rather than preempting it. That said, we have a number of innovations scheduled to support the user/customer needs as well as the ongoing hospital hand hygiene ecosystem evolution that we expect to over the next 12, 24, and 36 months. So we’re not entirely reactionary! Once we have the capacity, innovation will be at the heart of everything, be that new product dev to improving our green credentials to reducing our costs to make Orbel more affordable.

How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?

Adam Sutcliffe: Not in the way you might think! Everyone who knows me comments on how the pandemic must have catapulted Orbel to Unicorn status. This hasn’t been the case. In fact, we think we’d have done more business if the pandemic hadn’t happened. Why? Because when Covid hit, the market was suddenly flooded with companies producing alcohol hand sanitizer products, and customers just wanted to get their hands on whatever they could. As a result, Orbel was suddenly in a crowded marketplace. The need to increase hand hygiene to stop the spread of diseases was replaced by the panic reaction of simply putting dispensers everywhere and hoping that fear caused people to clean their hands more. Now that the world has a more considered approach to dealing with the pandemic, and as we see businesses returning to normal, we are starting to see the value of Orbel being realized. As such, we’re now seeing the business grow and evolve into other sectors such as hospitality, retail, and education.

Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?

Adam Sutcliffe: Over the history of the organization, we have certainly made the right as well as wrong human resourcing decisions. Fortunately, we have made more right decisions recently. In 2019, for example, the appointment of Michael Woods as a capable CEO with a broad strategic, execution, and medical technology experience, we were well-positioned to be able to respond to the challenging 2020 environment I mentioned earlier.

How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?

Adam Sutcliffe: Orbel is very much an organization that seeks to remain as efficient as possible. With the core execution team based in London, Melbourne (Australia), and DongGuang (China) and our distribution customers being globally located, the lack of travel has proved a challenge. We have responded to the situation like many other organizations by leaning heavily on video-conferencing technology.

Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?

Adam Sutcliffe: Yes. We took advantage of the UK Government’s Bounce Back Loan, which enabled us to shore up the business in the early part of 2020

Your final thoughts?

Adam Sutcliffe: The post-Covid world is going to be full of opportunities; new ways of working, confidence in embracing change, drive to get back up + running, and growth/evolution of businesses to fill the gaps left by those that have departed. As such, it’s a fantastic time to be an entrepreneur or to become an entrepreneur. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what is achieved over the coming months. 

Your website?

http://www.orbelhealth.com/

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