Essex: A-OK Care Monitor firm looks for its next big break after being named The One

The A-OK Care Monitor device

The A-OK Care Monitor device - Credit: Archant

Essex businessman Ray Higgs has developed a unique device to offer peace of mind for elderly and vulnerable people living alone. His A-OK Care Monitor won a regional business competition last year and now he is looking for an investor to help him roll out the product in the UK and overseas. He spoke to Sheline Clarke about the journey so far and his hopes for the future.

Keeping a discreet eye on an elderly or vulnerable relative can be a tricky business, as Ray Higgs, discovered when his late father needed a little bit of extra care in his later years. Not wanting to intrude on his father’s privacy but needing a little more peace of mind that he was OK, Ray developed a non-intrusive monitoring system that fundamentally detects non-movement and compares findings with normal behavioural patterns. If there is cause for concern a text message is sent to family members and/or carers to suggest they check in to make sure everything is alright.

The technology involves a spin on the use of PIR detectors, which usually use passive infrared technology to detect motion. With the help of some clever software, A-OK uses these monitors to detect non-movement, which might indicate a fall or that someone is unconscious.

Once Ray and his software gurus had the basic prototype, they have been able to add in other features which can also detect extreme changes in temperature, power cuts and even offer a swipe-in facility for carers visiting your loved ones.

The start-up business, based in Great Dunmow in Essex, has supplied almost 100 units and the response has been overwhelming.

Ray takes up the story.

“To give you an example, I knew that my Dad got up around 7 every morning, so if there was no movement between say 7 and 8, and I could be alerted to that fact, then I could make a call and be sure he was OK.

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“With my background in security we had the idea of using PIR detectors that usually detect movement, and thought that if I could get them to detect non-movement then we were on to something.

“Dad wasn’t keen on having cameras in the house or wearing a “necklace” with an alarm button on it and, as he quite rightly pointed out, if he was unconscious he wouldn’t be able to push the button to raise the alarm anyway.

“So the solution had to take that into account and to be as unintrusive as possible.

“There are hundreds of millions of PIR detectors in the world; they are little white boxes with a red light and we are used to having them about, often in things like burglar alarms. The early prototype for the monitor was quite a big piece of electronics that would sit on the sideboard, but as we started to develop it the unit got smaller and smaller, and now it is a little white box that can be installed with one nail.”

Ray had had his eureka moment and was able to develop a system which was simple to use, effective and adaptable to individual circumstances. He had not only met his Dad’s needs but also his own in terms of peace of mind, and soon realised that other people would also see the genius of his idea.

“When we made the first one it made me chuckle,” said Ray, “because it really worked and yet it was so simple, and now it has become a real passion of mine.

“Everyone I speak to knows someone who would benefit from having one of these. If, at any point, someone had said to me that this is a stupid idea then I would probably have given up and walked away. But no one thinks like that; everyone who has seen it thinks it is a brilliant idea and that really pushed us on.”

With such a great response to his idea, Ray had 100 units manufactured and now has just a handful left on the shelf.

As well as the domestic market, Ray also sees opportunities for facility providers such as care homes and is already offering his product overseas, using his existing contacts from his security company.

He believes good nursing homes will welcome the transparency of the care they are offering, while companies who provide carers for home visits will be able to use the A-OK to ensure staff are visiting when they should and staying the requisite amount of time. It also means that a care company could prioritise calls should there be any cause for concern from a monitor that a person hasn’t moved.

In the process of seeking a route to market, Ray came across The One competition which offered a prize package worth £40,000 in business support and advertising.

He was one of more than 30 entrants invited to pitch to The One judges, and was victorious, with the judges commenting on the combination of innovation and passion in the project.

Ray says his business is already benefiting from the prize package which has included advice on branding, launching a new website and compiling a strategic plan to help attract funding.

“We have leant a lot,” says Ray. “The accountants have advised us on the strategic plan which explains what the product is but also the potential it offers an investor. It is clear cut and answers all the questions; if I had put it together I would have written it from the heart about how passionate I am about the product but that is not necessarily what an investor needs to know. It has to be financially viable and tax advantageous.”

Ray believes a recent change in the law that incentivises investment in small local inventions will help his cause and is looking for £250,000 to help raise awareness of the product.

And while he is targeting local authorities here in the UK, interest overseas is already building.

With his contacts in the security business, Ray has already had interest from Germany, Italy and Holland, and further afield in Singapore and Asia.

It feels like Ray is on the brink of something big.