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Wrapper on an apple provided the inspiration for new injury casts

A new company has the great chance at success when its promoter shows real passion, according to David Sheehan, managing director, FastForm Research.

‘‘The entrepreneur must be able to get diverse stakeholders to see his vision, and rally them to follow him in a venture to provide a product that customers love and will ultimately create profit,’’ Sheehan said.

‘‘When pitching for funding it is important that potential investors feel your passion and sincerity. When trialling a medical devices product, clinicians like to see that the driver of the project knows every intrinsic detail of the product being sold.’’

Sheehan established Fast Form Research in 2001 in Killowen, Co Waterford, with the aim of putting his experience in a range of engineering, product and management to good use.‘‘I had worked in the automotive industry, but wanted to do something that benefited mankind while making a profit. My first project was designing shelters for humanitarian aid, but it was not feasible to pursue that,’’ he said.

‘‘A simple mesh wrapper on an apple triggered the idea of making a diamond matrix from a moldable polymerto wrap around people’s limbs as an alternative to plaster-of-paris casts. The FastForm idea was born.’’

The South East Enterprise Platform Programme at Waterford Institute of Technology provided Sheehan with incubation space to get his idea off the ground. Before introducing the product, he carried out thorough market research, aswell as meeting with clinicians and focus groups.

‘‘Enterprise Ireland provided funding for R&D and business acceleration through its High Performance Start-up Unit.

‘‘The company took off properly in 2003 when I raised €300,000 seed capital and formed a board,’’ he said.

FastForm’s range of multifunctional casts, splints and orthoses all incorporate the company’s ‘smart polymer’ technology, but getting them to market proved more difficult than Sheehan expected.

‘‘R&D took longer and cost more than planned. Creating the right regulatory environment for products to be approved and accepted absorbed a good deal of funds,’’ said Sheehan.

‘‘We perhaps unwittingly developed a novel technology from scratch, which we transferred to a local contract manufacturer. If starting again, I would probably outsource more activities and focus on the product-to-market chain.’’

So far this year, FastForm has secure distribution deals with a host of new partners. ‘‘Deals have recently been done with customers in Greece, Spain and Poland. Discussions and product evaluations are under way with a large distributor which has more than 700 clinics in the US, as well as with potential partners in the French, German and Scandinavian markets,’’ said Sheehan.

‘‘We have a product champion in the US who is a former Olympic skier and very well connected. He is introducing us to orthopaedic surgeons and other influential people over there.’’

The use of a FastForm orthosis product in a ground breaking hand transplant operation in Poland last month created valuable publicity for the company.

‘‘FastForm products were also prescribed for a soldier who had a transplant o fboth lower arms after injury from an explosive device. The story was featured extensively on the US channel Fox News.’’

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