Our Start-up of the Week is Aphex, a Waterford-based business providing software to help life sciences companies safely dispose of chemical waste.
Ten years ago, Aphex managing director Kevin Walsh began his career in life sciences, working for a global multinational. While working in a lab, he was indirectly involved in a serious chemical accident, where a colleague incorrectly put two incompatible chemicals into the same waste container.
Walsh explained to Siliconrepublic.com that this is where the concept for his business was born. “If this was happening here, then what type of practices are being used elsewhere? Through our market validation, we realised this is an industry-wide issue.”
Walsh said the problem went beyond the life sciences industry and affected SMEs, school and university labs and hospitals. So, through his project management consultancy company, Aphex, Walsh began building the software platform that is now Chemishield.
Changing how chemical waste is disposed
Walsh explained that Aphex now focuses on three strands in life sciences and advanced manufacturing: recruitment, engineering consultancy services and the SaaS platform Chemishield.
While he has a background in chemistry, Aphex co-founders Craig Neale and Thomas O’Brien are engineers who have worked in life sciences for 25 years.
“Over the past few years we’ve been fortunate to grow a reputable recruitment division with clients across the country,” Walsh said.
“Chemishield was always the long-term goal – build a business, grow revenue, learn on the job and figure out if we’re cut out for business. If all of those boxes were getting ticked, then build a software platform that has the capability to change how chemical waste is disposed of in labs.”
Chemishield is a cloud-based platform for both large and small organisations that is looking to reduce the chances of human error when disposing of chemical waste, Walsh explained, with tracking and analytics tools.
This aims to help businesses remain compliant, prevent accidents and protect the environment.
“Chemishield is simple,” Walsh said. “Clients decide via the lab manager role which stream they want their chemical waste to go into. When a user uses our software, they will only be presented with waste bottles that are suitable for the chemicals they wish to dispose of.”
If a lab manager were to select two different chemicals that needed to be disposed of, Chemishield aims to prevent them going into same waste bottle.
The software uses a two-step validation process where users will scan a QR code on the waste bottle to ensure that they have the correct bottle for their waste. If they scan the wrong bottle, Chemishield will present them with an error message.
“Our product has full reporting functionality, so you can see who is disposing of what, where and when,” Walsh said.
He added that he wants to “completely overhaul” how companies deal with chemical waste. “There are so many problems with the current process.
“Currently, it either relies heavily on tracking waste through paper records, which isn’t very efficient. Accidents happen frequently, waste isn’t properly labelled, some waste ends up in our water supplies because staff don’t know where it should go, so down the sink it goes.”
The journey so far
Walsh said that he set up the consultancy and recruitment aspects of the business before launching the software platform so that the company wouldn’t have to rely on investors to finance its SaaS project.
“We went down that route and pitched to investors, but I don’t really have much time for some of these people,” he said. “I think some of them have watched too many episodes of Dragon’s Den! This is why we built up the other two arms of our business.”
Aphex has now onboarded a number of large multinationals to the Chemishield platform. Although the coronavirus pandemic has caused disruption to the start-up’s plans to showcase its software at trade fairs this year, Walsh remains optimistic about what the future could hold.
“Ultimately, I’m motivated to make as much money as possible and reward those closest to me,” he joked. “I’d love to buy Annestown House, an old white mansion overlooking the sea in Waterford, and have Dermot Bannon overhaul it. Well, that’s my wife’s goal really.”
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