We talked to Carlo Centonze, Co-Founder & CEO at HeiQ about the innovation partner for textiles and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Carlo Centonze: Thanks for asking. We are doing fine. But like many people, as a working father of two, I faced the challenge during school closure while working from home. It was tough!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded HeiQ.
Carlo Centonze: HeiQ was born on a hike in 2005: my co-founder Murray Height, an MIT chemical engineer, and I had very smelly shirts after a 5-day hike in the Swiss Alps. Our then girlfriends sent us 100m ahead and touched our pride. We came up with HeiQ and its first antimicrobial odor control technology. We wanted to use science to solve such a problem that is relevant to many people! Our first antimicrobial technology, which is still selling to date after 15 years, was adopted by Odlo, our first brand customer.
My background is in science and engineering with an EMBA. HeiQ is my second startup, the first one, myclimate, is a market leader in carbon offsetting.
How does HeiQ innovate?
Carlo Centonze: We innovate through co-creation. We work with 650 brands worldwide, and we innovate with them and develop solutions for their problems. Sometimes the solutions are handily available in our product range. We just need to help them apply the technology and bring it to market; sometimes, that needs a new formulation. By adding our technologies to textile products, our aim is to make them more functional, more comfortable, and sustainable.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Carlo Centonze: We are some of the fortunate ones. I would describe my entire company as “sailors that are made to sail against the headwind.” As the pandemic hit and the economy uncertain, we worked extra hard to bring our now world-renown antiviral textile technology to the market. On the one hand, we wanted to help mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic; on the other hand, we also wanted to create the suspension to get ourselves ready to face the worst. After the immense success of our antiviral product, our business doubled, and we make it to be listed on the London Stock Exchange. We are the first ETH startup to be listed outside of Switzerland (there are only 3 listed companies that are born as ETH startups so far)
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Carlo Centonze: Yes, but not in a way that we need to let people go. But they are rather having so much to do and just very lean resources and trying to guide and lead the team to achieve more, knowing that they all work extremely hard and can be exhausted at times. Another difficult thing is to hire and onboard new team members without meeting them face to face. It is something new, phone interview, laptop sent to their home, Teams meeting. Now we are getting used to it.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Carlo Centonze: Even closer than before, I guess if you are trying to do good things and do the right things, people see it, and if they support your purpose, they support your business. As a business, integrity is very important because that is the only way to get people (employees, customers, investors) to trust you.
As a company, we have been quite flexible in our work-from-home policy even before the pandemic. So we are used to managing our jobs anywhere we sit. But of course, during 2020, suddenly, Teams became an essential tool (thank god we launched it across our organization ins 2019!) We also see the urgent need to accelerate our digitization; as a growing organization, at a certain scale, you need to be an organization, meaning you are actually organized. That means having the right content management, document management, HR procedures, SOPs, etc., because if you don’t get those organized, once your business gets the opportunity to grow exponentially, your back-end operation will not be able to cope with the massive number of requests.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Carlo Centonze: At the beginning of the pandemic, when the economic impact was still unclear, we have reduced the engagement of 2 employees. But soon, we needed them back full time to help with the growing business needs.
Your final thoughts?
Carlo Centonze: If you are running a startup, you probably have a brilliant idea just waiting for the opportunity to be seen and widely adopted. You need to be adaptable and agile. Be an active listener to your customers and business partners. Sometimes you may even need to adjust your products or ideas but stick to your beliefs. Don’t give up.