Colin Lowe was in the final stages of establishing his new business ‘Ease for You’ when COVID-19 began to spread across the country. With support from the Hub’s innovation service, he pivoted from cooling packs to hand sanitiser to help out during the pandemic.
When an accident meant that Colin Lowe needed to retire after a career as a bus driver in Bolton, he started working to create a new medical gel cool pack to help alleviate pain for injured patients.
Like many entrepreneurs, his plans were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and he pivoted to start manufacturing an affordable and high-quality sanitiser for use in local hospitals.
Colin (pictured) talks to GC Business Hub about his incredible journey.
We shouldn’t still be relying on frozen peas
I used to work on the buses and one day I was coming back from driving a school run on an old bone-shaking bus when I drove over a pothole. The jolt really hurt my back. I had to park up and call for someone to come and get me. The next thing I knew I was in the hospital with damage to not just my spine but also my knee and the back of my neck.
As a result of my injury, I was pensioned off and started seeing a physio and private consultant to try and ease the pain I was having. An injury like mine needed cold treatments but there’s nothing available that can go directly on to your skin, we’re still needing to use things like frozen peas. It seemed to me that there should be something better.
After talking to a clinician at the University of Salford I started Googling what kind of ingredients I could use to make a non-freezable gel to help people like me. I had time on my hands after retiring, so I was sketching drawings of how I wanted the pouch and strapping to work, while we came up with a simple list of ingredients.
I contacted GC Business Growth Hub and with their help, I got in touch with the University of Bolton and Professor Mohsen Miraftab, who was an expert in this field. He carried out a six-week project with graduates in a lab and came up with five samples of the gel for me to test. I was the guinea pig, but the test worked. I don’t have a problem with my back anymore.
The gel then went onto trials with 72 people taking part and these were really successful, with it performing better than a similar, market-leading product in all three categories they tested. The tests were led by Colin Robinson from the University of Bolton. Afterwards, he said that if the existing product was a car it would be a Ford Focus – fine but not fancy – while my gel would be a BMW. I was nearly in tears when I heard that, I wasn’t expecting it at all.
We all need to help others out when we can
It broke my heart seeing footage of nurses and care home workers crying because of the lack of provisions and the pressures they faced earlier this year. After seeing the cost of sanitiser triple in some cases as a result of coronavirus, I decided I had to do my bit and help out.
I’d always thought that what we were using for the gel could also make a good hand sanitiser, so we just tweaked the ingredients. I still wanted it to be nice and simple with as few ingredients as possible. We found a manufacturing company and they made me 1,000 litres, which I mostly donated around nursing homes in Bolton.
I’ve had great feedback from the nursing homes about the quality of the hand sanitiser and also from a major supermarket chain I sent some to.
Some local councils have also been in touch as they are interested in having some of the hand sanitiser too, which is all down to the help I’ve had from the Business Growth Hub. The most important thing for me is making it affordable and cheaper than the prices the NHS have been paying during this pandemic, so I’m on their procurement list too.
I’m not doing this to make money, I want to come up with something that is as cheap as I can make it and still be a good product.
I couldn’t have done this without the Hub
I’ve known Stephanie Stafford (Innovation Advisor) from the Hub for years while I was developing the non-freezable pouches. We’ve worked really well together, and the Hub has helped me work with the University of Bolton as well as be a part of the Innovation Vouchers scheme.
The pandemic has meant that progress with the gel has been put aside a little, but it’s still my main project and I’ll soon be getting going with it again. There are exciting things coming for both products soon with new contracts getting signed and big marketing plans underway. I owe much of this to the Business Growth Hub.
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