In conversation with portfolio company Footfalls and Heartbeats

We speak with Simon McMaster, Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Footfalls and Heartbeats, to discuss how the Company is managing business, both in the office and in the labs, as they respond to the COVID-19 crisis. What certainly stands out is their incredible initiative, 'Masks for the Masses'.

Footfalls and Heartbeats, a smart-textiles manufacturing company based in Nottingham, is typically involved in the production of smart fabrics for consumer markets. The process marries traditional local techniques and state-of-the-art nanotechnology. However, in response to today's health crisis, Footfalls and Heartbeats have managed to rapidly restructure their manufacturing process and are currently producing face masks at an astounding rate of one every two and a half minutes!

They are a driving force in the national initiative to make masks widely available to the British public. You can learn more about Masks for the Masses, here. 

Click here to read the video transcript

Annabel

Hello, I'm Annabel and I'm part of the marketing team here at Foresight. Over the last few weeks, we have been profiling some of our portfolio companies who are working directly and in the efforts to help fight COVID-19. Today I'm here with Simon McMaster, who is the founder and chief scientific officer of Footfalls and Heartbeats. Footfalls and Heartbeats has developed, and I need to be careful to get this right, a revolutionary process for manufacturing smart fabrics, which uses nanoscale interactions with the textile to make the fabric itself and sensor and removes the need for wires. Is that right Simon?

Simon

That’s very good Annabel, we’ll give you a job.

Annabel

Thanks very much for joining me today.

Simon

Oh, my pleasure. Thank you very much for giving us giving us the time. It's brilliant.

Annabel

Good. And so first of all, I'm just going to ask a bit about you and your team and how you're managing during this strange time?

Simon

Well, yeah, it is. It's a very strange time. And it's, it's a bit different for footfalls because we're a maker. So we knit. So some of us have to be in the office and in the lab meeting, and then the rest of us can be at home. So we're keeping those people at home who can because then it's easier and safer for them. We regularly talk to them, we have meetings every day. But then for the guys and myself and one other staff member. We're actually in the office in the lab every day, making things for both clients and other projects that we're doing at the moment.

Annabel

Right, and can you tell me a bit more now about Footfalls and Heartbeats and what you're doing to help with this crisis and how you're uniquely positioned to be the ones to help?

Simon

Okay, so we're very lucky Nottingham’s an extraordinary town. Most people in the UK won't understand, but Nottingham is a place where….So I'm wearing a T shirt today that's been what they call weft knitted and weft knitting and the machinery for it was invented in Nottingham 415 years ago by a guy called William Lee, and so what we're trying to do is we have a one of a kind knitting machine in Nottingham called the same Tony X, which we normally use to knit shoes. But we thought about it and we thought maybe we could have masks on it. So the boys came in to work, and within a day we've managed to knit masks, we have to emphasise that they’re not medical grade masks, stuff for those people like supermarket workers and stuff like that. So what we're trying to do is start a system whereby we it's called mask the masses, so all we're doing is people buy two masks for themselves, for themselves or for other people. We donate one of these to one of the support workers and logistics or care homes or things like that. And there are just a barrier between the people to make them feel perhaps safer, to make them feel easier for them to go out and stuff but They aren't medical grade. But we've managed to make the machine which is normally designed to knit shoes to make masks, and it's one every two and a half minutes. And we're given the programme out to the guys who we bought the machine off in Italy, and they're going to send it out to all their other workers as well.

Annabel

That's fantastic. So that's a very quick turnaround from shoes to mask.

Simon

It was it was it literally took the two guys who knit for us a day. And they had they had the knitted and worked out and then we just had to fine tune. So in a day, from a day of missing shoes to the next day, we could make some.

Annabel

Fantastic Well, that's great.

Simon

Yeah, it's an excellent time for me and for Footfall, so originally started Footfall was to change the face of healthcare. And it seems to me that at the moment, one of the things we can do is try and help out with it. And that's coming from New Zealand, which is a really egalitarian country, I just thought it'd be really cool if we could try and help everybody. So that's all that's what we're trying to do.

 

Annabel

Fantastic. Well, that is excellent work, and I'm sure people are very much appreciating their new masks.

Simon

I hope so I hope, I hope they'll appreciate the new masks and stuff. There's a lot of work and effort gone into it, and we've actually even got the arm all the way over from Canada from my other partners founders, some anti-microbial. yeah, and sends it over really quickly. So that's, you know, everybody here helps the missing. The missing industry is just like a giant fan.

Annabel

Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Simon, and I will let you get back to knitting.

Simon

Thank you very much, Annabel, thank you very much for your time as well.

Annabel

Thanks, bye bye.