Thursday 19 April 2018

My Big Idea: Losing sight of my son while shopping inspired 'secret agent' wristband

Dee O'Leary with her product, the IDME wristband
Dee O'Leary with her product, the IDME wristband
Sarah McCabe

Sarah McCabe

MOTHER of three Dee O'Leary was inspired to set up her business after an experience that many parents can identify with -- losing sight of her young son in a shopping centre. Just a year later, the Cork woman and her husband have won a €30,000 bursary and are preparing to expand overseas.

"The eureka moment for us was in November 2011, when my two year old Liam went missing in a supermarket. After 15 frantic minutes searching for him in the aisles we found him safe in the cafe next door. It wasn't the first time he had wandered off -- he is adventurous, so we knew it would happen again and that something had to be done.

I went online to look for an identification tag that might help, but quickly realised there was nothing available short of writing the child's name and address on their arm. There are medical tags out there of course, but that's not really what we needed.

So we came up with the idea for IDME. It is a tear-proof and waterproof wristband that is comfortable for children to wear and holds the ink from something as simple as a ballpoint pen. Parents can choose to write as little or as much information as they like -- one of my kids has a nut allergy so I've included that, but it's completely open.

We officially started the business last June and it took about six months to find the right material, design and manufacturer, who is based in China. All the packaging is done right here in Carrigaline, Co Cork.

Our kids were our guinea pigs. We had to make the product as lightweight as possible and soft so it doesn't scratch the skin. Liam's first reaction was particularly inspiring -- he thought it was a secret agent wristband.

I don't have a background in entrepreneurship -- my husband and I both worked in recruitment for the building sector before this but were made redundant at similar times, in the wake of the recession. We realised we had an opportunity on our hands with IDME and just went for it.

The business has been almost completely self-funded. We did not have huge savings so instead sold my car and home equipment, anything we didn't need. Now we are planning to go to our local Enterprise Board before Christmas, to look for finance to grow.

We expect to break even next year as we have been very disciplined, the business model is very lean. The next six months will be key; we are trying to get the products into stores and schools and move into the UK. We currently sell directly through our website and through other online sellers, shipping around the world. The wristbands are also on sale in Sam McCauley chemists and at Cork and Shannon airports.

It cost €9.99 for one wristband and two inserts, meaning parents can opt for two different messages they can swop in and out -- just a phone number if you are going abroad, for example.

The biggest challenge in getting everything up and running was balancing everything. We had two kids on that fateful day when Liam got lost, and now have three. We work from home which helps but it really is a major balancing act. My husband and I work really well together which makes a huge difference -- I feel very lucky."

Irish Independent

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