Intensive mask use: the solution of a Swiss startup

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Swiss startup Helvitek Labs, based in Lausanne, has developed a protection to avoid injuries due to the daily use of this safety tool by health carers. A story of model innovation, which saw all the players in the system get involved in an unprecedented way to face the emergency.

Pictures circulated everywhere: hospital staff with damaged faces, marked by lesions due to the compulsory and daily wearing of surgical masks and / or FFP2 (more protective). This new reality due to the Covid-19 pandemic made the team of Helvitek Labs, a start-up based at the EPFL Innovation Park in Lausanne (canton of Vaud, Switzerland) immediately react.

Since 2018, the company has been developing an urban anti-pollution mask, filtering, breathable, elegant, but above all comfortable. Rapidly, the team decides to use its know-how to think of a solution for caregivers. Its members focus on the development of a morphological facial structure that adapts to medical masks, which are not designed for prolonged wear. “We have brought together a group of specialists who have all collaborated together: our design office in Zürich, BMCO, Professor Bruno Bürgisser of the Fribourg University of Engineering and Architecture and members of Inov3, our industrialization partner based in Lausanne ”, explains Roberto Costa, co-founder of Helvitek Labs. The group works "in the start-up spirit", focused on the solution to be developed.

Critical help from all the economic and innovation partners of the Vaud canton

However, there are development costs, including the cost of designing a mold to test the product. It is the Foundation for Technological Innovation (FIT) which makes it possible to solve this problem, by allocating, "in record time", a loan of 100,000 Swiss francs to the young company, funds without which the project could not have succeeded. The Office for Economic Affairs and Innovation (SPEI) also supports the project. Innovaud, the innovation promotion agency of the canton of Vaud, helps Helvitek Labs to make itself known and to receive the financial help from the FIT. Within a month, the morphological facial structure is ready. Developed in medical elastomer, it is made in Switzerland. It remains to be tested, which the Lausanne University Hospital agrees to do during the month of April. As a result, in a few weeks, thanks to this incredible surge of efficiency and solidarity, the solution should be available to health carers of several medical establishments in the region. 

A Swiss solution, based in a very innovative region 

For the moment, the startup is focusing on Switzerland. “Our idea was to solve a local problem. Our structure does not yet allow us to support international development, although of course we can imagine a partnership to supply foreign markets. We already have been approached by an American company”, considers Roberto Costa.

For the young company, which has interrupted the production of its anti-pollution masks, the experience has not been a waste of time, on the contrary. “This project acted as a catalyst. It allowed us to speed up our industrialization processes, to get in touch with or to secure partners with whom to work afterwards. " Helvitek Labs does not plan to grow faster. "Our plans are unchanged, we will keep our initial ambition, which is to launch the industrialization of our anti-pollution mask, while ensuring the production of morphological structures. If this latest project brings us more liquidity than expected, it will be re-injected into research and development to develop other projects related to protection and masks, "explains Théo-Tim Denisart, the second co-founder of Helvitek Labs. One thing, however, has profoundly changed: the context. “Before, during pitches to present our product, we needed a lot of time to explain to our interlocutors the interest of wearing a mask: particles, pollution, the interest for health… Now, we can do the economy of these explanations. Wearing a mask has become a priority ”.