Lighting the way to cleaner spaces
Vital Vio is using pioneering antimicrobial LED technology to “create cleaner and safer spaces for us all” – a solution that has become more important than ever during the coronavirus crisis. CEO and Co-Founder Colleen Costello shares how Barclays’ Unreasonable Impact programme helped the company to grow, and why “new thinking” is crucial to solving global challenges.
The coronavirus crisis has had a sudden and unprecedented impact on people around the world and made regular disinfection a pressing concern. But it was back in 2012 that Unreasonable Impact fellow Colleen Costello first saw the urgent need for a new antimicrobial solution after her grandmother contracted MRSA bacterial infection while staying in hospital.
Every year, one in 25 patients in the US contracts bacterial infections in hospital – and diseases caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria result in hundreds of thousands of deaths annually around the globe. Costello’s solution is a groundbreaking, light-based decontamination technology, one that has become more important than ever.
The company she co-founded, Vital Vio, manufactures LEDs which use a precise spectrum of visible light to destroy microbes, preventing the growth of bacteria, mould, fungi and yeast. These products meet international standards for continual and unrestricted use around people, pets and plants, while the space is being used and can replace standard lighting fixtures.
The only way we’re going to address these problems is through new thinking. What we were doing yesterday isn’t working. The light at the end of the tunnel is figuring out ways we can be proactive and prevent these events in the future
CEO and Co-Founder of Vital Vio
Public opinion on hygiene has shifted significantly since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, shows research conducted by Vital Vio in April. Its survey of over 1,000 Americans suggested that 82% are more aware of cleaning tools and protocols used in public spaces – and that 76% will hold brands accountable for the way they clean their spaces.
Costello, who has a background in clinical device research, biomedical engineering and product development, says that Vital Vio has seen a 4,000% increase in demand over the last two months: “Now everyone is considering a new relationship with germs. Large institutions and individual homeowners are rethinking how can they live and work in safer and cleaner environments – and our mission is to provide new antimicrobial tools for these groups.”
Disinfection with the flip of a light-switch
Vital Vio’s solution can be incorporated into a range of settings, from hospitals and airports to households and athletic facilities. In 2017, it partnered with the athletic department of Duke University in North Carolina, US, to protect athletes from infection, and earlier this year signed a deal with Delta Air Lines to add its antimicrobial lighting to planes.
Costello says the LEDs could also prove useful in smaller public spaces. “If you think about trying to socially distance in an elevator, it gets very challenging. We’re able to replace overhead elevator lighting and also place antimicrobial LEDs behind elevator buttons, which are high-touch areas. There are a whole host of different ways our technology is used, so that when people walk into a new space they’re able to be and feel safer.”
But what really differentiates Vital Vio’s technology is that, unlike other disinfecting techniques, it is continuous.
“There are issues with ‘intermittent cleaning’, whether it’s wiping and washing or ultraviolet light. You could only be cleaning for five minutes of a day, which means there might be 23 hours and 55 minutes in which you’re not,” Costello explains. “That’s what is different about our technology – it can be continuously used for the entire time that people are using the space.”
The light-based approach has sustainability and health advantages too, she says: “We’re able to have energy efficiency improvements by changing lighting, the product has a very long life, and it can be recycled. We don’t use any harsh chemicals, we don’t use dangerous ultraviolet light. We use wavelengths which are commonly found in a variety of other settings, and we concentrate them for this purpose.”
An innovative approach
It’s crucial to think creatively when it comes to resolving global challenges like the coronavirus pandemic, says Costello.
There are not a lot of programmes which are focussed on driving resources towards companies and products that really have a meaningful impact on the world’s largest problems
CEO and Co-Founder of Vital Vio
“The only way we’re going to address these problems is through new thinking. What we were doing yesterday isn’t working. The light at the end of the tunnel is figuring out ways we can be proactive and prevent these events in the future.”
Her forward-thinking ethos matches with that of Barclays’ Unreasonable Impact programme, which Vital Vio joined as part of the 2018 cohort for the Americas. The international accelerator, created in partnership with Unreasonable Group, is committed to supporting businesses that help solve societal and environmental challenges around the world. The two-week programme offers growth-stage ventures access to one-on-one meetings with mentors, brainstorming sessions and the chance to connect with other like-minded entrepreneurs.
“There are not a lot of programmes which are focussed on driving resources towards companies and products that really have a meaningful impact on the world’s largest problems,” says Costello, who says she benefitted from the insights provided by other participants.
“By their nature, large global challenges are not easy to solve, so there were a lot of resources as well as advisory programmes to help us have a grander impact and bring a scale mentality to the picture.
“That’s critically important for these problems that are impacting people daily. Most of them are not getting any better quickly.”
And, with the continued support of the bank, Vital Vio plans to continue to grow and bring its solutions into more environments. “We regularly work and speak with Barclays and they’ve been amazing to work with thus far. They’ve been immensely supportive to us, both in terms of fundraising, as well as various customer connections and interactions.”
She adds that the Unreasonable Impact programme has “without a doubt” enabled its entrepreneurs to help the community during the coronavirus crisis.
“All of the benefits, both with Barclays and the Unreasonable Impact programme, have contributed to our continued scale, and what that means is more of our products in more of the spaces where people work, live and travel. And that means there are safer and cleaner spaces for us all.”