Crowdfunding a lifesaving invention during the pandemic


By Estelle Nilsson-Julien, First year, Politics and International Relations

Simon Hall is crowdfunding his invention, an airway suction device, to be donated to the NHS. This could save thousands of lives. Find out about his journey, and how he got his business going, in the midst of a global pandemic.

On his 55th birthday, Simon Hall quit his well-paid job, leaving behind the security of the last 18 years of his life. His project? To create an airway suction device: behind every hospital bed is an oxygen flowmeter, which is used as a suction controller, to clear blockages in patients’ airways.

Simon’s engineering background and previous role at the heart of a medical company selling oxygen therapy, left him with extensive knowledge of medical engineering.  This is essential for Covid-19 patients, as the virus incubates in the oral cavity, so it needs to be cleared regularly.

A device indispensable in the fight against patients being sent to Intensive Care Units, Simon’s suction device acts as a backup: ‘if the flowmeter fails for some reason, my device would be sat right next to the primary system', he says. 'The clinician can simply swap the tube off the primary suction, and pop it onto mine’.

A highly innovative engineer, but also someone with serious entrepreneurial guts, he had come up with the idea five years ago and pitched it to his former employers, who ‘weren’t very enthused about it all’, according to Simon. Within a few months of founding his company, the Covid-19 pandemic struck. His friends started asking him whether there was something he could do. He sought to adapt his project, another kick, pushing him to get it off the ground: ‘it was initially meant to be a portable device, in the shape of a sports bottle,' he explained, 'but I adapted it to fit hospitals’.

Nevertheless, Simon had little funding for his project, only making it work by self-funding through a government scheme which allows people over the age of 55 to cash in 25 of their pensions (tax free). But this was not enough. Simon’s business mentor suggested he launch a Crowdfunder of £10,000, with Simon agreeing on one condition: ‘I thought that Crowdfunding was great. However, I don’t really want to get people to donate and then charge the NHS for the device. The idea of making any profit from people’s donations just didn’t really sit right with me’.

Therefore, 100 percent of the Crowdfunding donations go towards the Simon’s device. Simon’s salary is thus lost in the equation, relying on personal savings to stay afloat: ‘I used to have a well-paid job, a nice car but I was really miserable. Whereas now I am really happy, but skint!’.

He has now met his initial fundraising target but still needs more donations. ‘The more money we raise, the more we can make,' he says; 'I would like to make at least 1,000 devices and donate them to the NHS, but we don’t have the money for that yet’.

He has had 3D designs of the device printed and is also getting a high-quality sample made. ‘I’ve sourced various bits of metal which I bought through the Crowdfunder, which will allow me to make a few devices. The next step is to send off the device to a regulatory body, so that they can give it their seal of approval’. A complicated process, with their being stringent regulations for medical devices.

Simon describes innovation as ‘a thriving culture’, encouraging students to make use of the resources available to them. Understandably, venturing into the unknown with a business project in hand, can be daunting for students, especially when student debt is so high. Nevertheless, the University of Bristol has a range of schemes for budding entrepreneurs, including The New Enterprise fund, run by the Basecamp Enterprise Team.

The New Enterprise Fund is the University’s flagship start-up competition, which awards up to £35,000 to students yearly based on business plans, also offering support and mentoring. Simon stresses ‘look around, access, network, find out what you can get, there’s a lot of stuff for nothing’, encouraging those tempted by making such a ‘brave step’ to take the leap.

You can donate here.

Featured image: Twitter / airwaymedicalltd

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