Cool idea hopes for big bucks at UQ Business School's Enterprize competition

14 Oct 2009
Emergency workers, sportspeople, and miners are set to benefit from an innovative personal cooling system should GRW Industries win the UQ Business School Enterprize competition. The CoolMe™ technology developed by GRW Industries is a disposable vest that can be worn under protective clothing, achieving temperatures of three to five degrees Celsius through a chemical reaction inside the vest which produces cold fluid. "It's is a personal cooling vest designed to limit the effects of heat stress during physical activity in hot and humid environments, in particular when wearing protective clothing like that worn by fire fighters, as well as promote a rapid recovery from such heat stress situations," said Robert Ennis-Thomas, a member of the GRW Industries product development team. Glen Deakin, also a member of the product development team, said the project has been going 'since late 2005, with 100's of hours by each of the three team members being put into the development and testing of the CoolMe™ vest'. "Whilst working with the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service (QFRS) on a wellness program in 2005-2006 it was mentioned in passing by Station Officer Ian Fulton that heat stress is a major issue for fire fighters because of the protective clothing they wear, the hot and humid conditions they work in and the limited access to facilities, i.e. no cooling facilities available at jobs," Dr Deakin said. "He was curious if anything could be done to assist them. Following this I spoke with two JCU colleagues, technical officers Robert Ennis-Thomas and William Armstrong and together we formulated the cooling vest." And just how will the vest benefit fire fighters, police, ambulance officers, sportspeople, military personnel and those in the mining industries? "The CoolMe vest will benefit the community, industry and business by providing a safer working environment via reducing the risk of developing heat related illnesses whilst performing and recovering from physical activity in environments with moderate/high ambient temperatures and humidity," Dr Deakin said. "Because the CoolMe™ vest has the advantages of not requiring pre-cooling from an external source, is simple and quick to deploy and can provide an immediate strong cooling application once activated, it is ideal for use in emergency situations. Consequently, it will benefit any occupation, organisation or sporting event that is held away from infrastructure such as regional or remote locations." "In addition, industry and businesses will benefit as the vest will help reduce costs through less worker absences whilst increasing profits as worker productivity will be enhanced." Despite some competition from other personal cooling systems already on the market, William Armstrong, of the product development team said 'the CoolMe vest overcomes the limitations of these other devices by providing a strong immediate cooling effect with minimal preparation and without the need for pre-cooling'. "In addition to being convenient, hygienic, cheap and disposable, it can be worn under protective clothing or as a stand alone recovery device," he said. Having almost completed the development of their first product and with much interest from potential customers, project manager George Adamson said GRW Industries stood a good chance of winning Enterprize because of the 'market pull' for the product and their 'committed team'. "For an opportunity like ours, the prize money would make a big difference and allow us to take the next steps in reaching the market so that the benefits of the CoolMe™ technology can be provided to users. It would raise our profile at a time when we are seeking investment and commercial partners to realise the opportunity that we are developing." But regardless of whether GRW Industries wins the $100,000 in prize money on offer, making the nation-wide Enterprize competition one of the most lucrative in Australia, Dr Adamson said the competition 'has provided a forum for us to clearly define and articulate our goals as a company'. "Enterprize has helped us with our business. As a result of our involvement, we have pulled together all of our information and thinking and have developed it into a clear plan of action and a compelling story that will keep driving us forward to realise the opportunity," he said. "The competition has given us the chance to refine and communicate the opportunity and potential that our company has to a wider audience, and has allowed us to validate our proposed plan and incorporate feedback from the competition judges."