Ciara Donlon proves how one idea can change the world

26 Jul 2018

Ciara Donlon, founder and CEO of Theya Healthcare. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Inspirefest 2018 was bursting with outstanding ideas that have been executed to make the world a better place, and Ciara Donlon’s business is no exception.

“In the next minute, three women somewhere in the world are going to be told that they have breast cancer.”

Entrepreneur Ciara Donlon’s opening words at Inspirefest 2018 packed a gut-wrenching punch.

The reality of that statistic left no one unaffected, knowing that, as Donlon added, one of those women could be their daughter, mother, sister, friend or even them.

“They will experience a lot pain during treatment, they’ll experience anxiety, sleep loss, lack of femininity, to name but a few things.”

Donlon is the founder and CEO of Theya Healthcare, which designs bras and briefs for women post-surgery. The range is made from a unique bamboo fabric mix, which promotes healing, offers exceptional comfort and functionality, and looks beautiful.

At Inspirefest, she introduced the audience to Beth, a breast cancer survivor who Donlon said was the catalyst behind her decision to start the company.

“As you can see, there’s an awful lot of ravages on her body and she put this up on Facebook because she wanted the world to see what lies beneath somebody who looks very beautiful and looks very normal when she’s got her clothes on.”

Donlon already had a lingerie company before Theya Healthcare and she said there wasn’t anything out there for women post-surgery to address their needs.

“My now competitors are prosthetic companies, so they make the breast forms.” She added that the products they make are really just designed to hold up the breast forms and nothing more. “It was scaffolding.”

Donlon said this was her ‘Aha!’ moment and she decided to do something about it, creating Theya Healthcare.

She secured €20,000 in funding from Enterprise Ireland in 2012 and used that money to set up focus groups with 80 breast cancer survivors across Ireland and the UK.

Making the product

Donlon explained how important the market research and focus groups were when it came to designing the product.

“The women told us what they wanted,” she said. “We literally put her at the centre of everything and designed for her.”

Donlon, along with a qualified lingerie designer with more than two decades of industry experience, worked through six iterations of the design, making sure it was right before going to market.

The audience learned about the details of how she came to develop the product further, discovering bamboo as a natural alternative to cotton that was antibacterial, and ensuring it was backed up by oncology research.

Donlon’s journey was a perfect lesson in developing an idea, not just for a business, but for a business that can make the world a better place.

The story of Theya Healthcare also shows budding entrepreneurs how to bring that idea to fruition through market research, focus groups, expert input and determination.

Above almost anything else, Donlon said that finding out what the women at the centre of her product wanted was the secret to success. “We hit the nail on the head and we did that because we listened.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Ultra Early Bird tickets for Inspirefest 2019 are available now.

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic