Interview by Marija Butkovic (@MarijaButkovic)
Ellen Caren lives in Cork, Ireland and holds an Honors Bachelor Degree in Marketing & Languages. Ellen is the COO and CO-Founder of run angel – an innovative connected audible personal safety wearable, which is manufactured in the UK & Ireland. Before founding Run Angel, Ellen was a buyer with the Brown Thomas fashion retail group.
What is the idea behind Run Angel and how did you come up with it?
run angel™ is the smallest, loudest personal safety wrist wearable that emits a 120dB alarm when activated, and pairs with smartphone devices over Bluetooth to send out emergency alerts by SMS & email to guardians showing your location.
Coming from a busy household my husband and I would often rotate our training, which would result in one of us running either early in the morning or late into the evening.
Over the past few years we would often discuss the increase in women out running alone and subsequently the shift in the gender split at races – in some circumstances with women outnumbering men.
As marketers we were also becoming aware of the attention the bigger brands were paying to this lucrative market.
The impetus however for run angel™ was born out of an unfortunate encounter whilst on an early morning run. After passing a woman out running alone my husband David was knocked to the ground by a hooded figure, when he got to his feet the guy had ran back in the direction he had come from. It didn't hit him until he was back into his run that this guy was actually pursuing the lone female runner only moments earlier. This sat with us for quite sometime afterwards and admittedly affected me when out running alone.
I set about to see what was available to a runner, which could deter an attack and alert passers-by. I found personal safety devices that were quite cumbersome, that would not be considered as a neat wrist worn wearable by the running community, and that also lacked the smart messaging capabilities that are found with run angel™.
When did it all start and do you have other members in your team?
As our product has a unique acoustic element to it we first set about surrounding ourselves with the right team who could assist us in bringing our vision to market. We not only invested personally, but also were fortunate to receive funding from our local government office.
We worked with several universities on the design front, enlisted the help of running clubs for focus group interviews and assigned a great deal of our budget on building prototypes.
It is worth noting that run angel™ is manufactured here in the UK & Ireland, which is considered very unusual for a wearable technology product. We believe when it comes to personal safety you cannot afford to compromise on the build quality and reliability of your product, that the end user should feel confident that what they are buying stands up to what it says it can do. There should be no short cuts to the finish line when safety is concerned.
We pride ourselves on being a lean tech start-up. We currently employ 3 full-time staff members and have in excess of 8 specialist consultants on long-term contracts including acoustic designers, electronic engineers and material experts.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
It has taken 4 years to bring run angel™ to market.
What was the biggest obstacle?
We have spent several years perfecting the design of our product. Making something so small sound loud was no easy feat.
Our USP pertains to the patent pending design of our acoustic chamber. We have built a chamber that emits 120dB when activated from run angel™, or remotely from our mobile applications. Our electronics design has also been tuned to a frequency level to enable the sound to be more susceptible to human hearing, thereby attracting greater attention in an emergency. Both chamber and the electronics design have been carefully constructed to fit neatly on a wrist – which presented immense challenges in itself.
Any business attempting to raise investment for a connected hardware product will appreciate the immense challenges that this presents. We made the conscious decision early on not to approach potential investors until the hardware was near completion. In addition to this, that our IP folder was of significant bulk and a manufacturing and distribution contract had also been secured.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
Achieving a high decibel level from a small footprint, securing private investment, the overwhelming media response since our launch, the positive customer feedback, notwithstanding seeing our idea come to fruition, you can never take that for granted.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in?
As we predominantly market run angel™ towards a female audience driving home the message of personal safety from a female founder at the helm is often met with a great deal of support.
There were times I will admit when I did feel a sense of nervousness when pitching or presenting to potential investors or business customers as it entailed projecting sexual assault statistics or the behavioural habits of an attacker up on a screen and the eye contact for that moment was lost. However this was necessary to our pitching process and speaking afterwards the feedback was that everyone simply got when we were doing and knew someone who could benefit from having a run angel™.
How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
When the concept of run angel™ was first muted admittedly I did find it quite daunting chairing meetings with a large technical team of male engineers.
I would not consider myself to have an extroverted personality nor was I schooled in engineering, however when you accept that you are the one instrumental in making it happen, having personally sacrificed everything to get you there, you become less and less uncomfortable about speaking up, your questioning - though at times direct and what you’d consider as being straightforward, ultimately becomes very relevant to the end result.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
Very much so, I am the founder of a wearable tech company that champions personal safety, we do not market fear, we choose instead to promote empowerment amongst our users.
I also have two daughters who have both shared in our journey. I am proud to say that with run angel™ being part of all their lives that they are passionate in pursuing a career in STEM.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
Be passionate and believe in what you are doing above anything else.
Belief and passion is contagious, it fosters confidence within your team, can help you secure investment and attract the attention of gatekeepers in media.
Who are your inspirational women in wearable tech?
A different take on wearables in that her product can be worn to hold items together! – fellow Irish lass and Sugru Inventor and CEO, Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh for her inventiveneess and drive.
LinkedIn: Ellen Caren
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, co-founder of Women of Wearables and Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.