The resiliency of startups was put to test this year as teams were forced to adapt amidst a constantly changing landscape as work went remote, commerce shifted online, and new global challenges emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic.
One such company that understood its unique positioning early in the pandemic was Sonovia Ltd., an Israeli-based 2017 alum of the MassChallenge Israel Accelerator Program. Already working in the textile technology space, the nanotechnology company expanded its existing capabilities and R&D by embedding antiviral and anti-bacterial properties into fabrics.
Sonovia Ltd. has been instrumental in leading the application of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) in the fight against Covid-19. Using its existing infrastructure, logistics team and network, Sonovia Ltd. was able to vigorously test its technology and developed a new line of innovative SonoMasks. The products were researched in studies by Israel’s Ministry of Defense, Bar-Ilan University, US-based and EU-accredited labs that proved the masks offered 99% protection against Covid-19 particles.
The small startup quickly expanded its team to 70 employees to work on product development and logistics, rented three additional offices and established a fulfillment center in the Ramat Gan Bursa (Diamond Exchange District). Since then, the SonoMask has earned the prestigious Genesis Award and Sonovia Ltd. itself completed its IPO on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE), taking their mission to a whole new level.
We sat down with Shay Hershcovich, Director, COO, and Co-Founder of Sonovia Ltd. for a chat on the challenges of 2020, Covid-related innovation and the future of their mission:
1) Tell me about the material technology developed by Sonovia.
We developed a disruptive sound wave technology that can embed long-lasting, highly effective properties and qualities to textiles via an eco-friendly process. In an industry that is a leading cause of pollution worldwide, our innovative technology eliminates the need for harmful chemicals and dramatically reduces water consumption.
Sonovia is currently collaborating with industry leaders across multiple sectors, including the apparel, automotive, locomotive, hospitality, and medical companies, to evolve textile performance to additional fields such as UV-protection, water-repellency, and fire-retardancy. Our unique technology uses only eco-friendly materials and 0 chemical binders in the manufacturing process, protecting our water sources and our environment. Our products are reusable, washable, and maintain their properties for at least 55 wash cycles.
2) How did you pivot your business model at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic?
In January of 2020, we donated antibacterial materials to Chinese hospitals and over 100,000 masks to the Chinese government in the hopes that our technology could be effective in the fight against Covid-19. We quickly realized that Sonovia’s technology could be applied to embed fabrics with built-in antiviral and antimicrobial properties that neutralize over 99% of COVID-19 particles. These fabrics are currently being used to produce, among other products, reusable face-masks that offer active protection against viruses and bacteria and replace hundreds of disposable face masks, while providing active protection to its users.
3) What is Sonovia’s larger mission outside of the Covid-19 pandemic?
Sonovia was founded to create antiviral and anti-bacterial solutions to reduce hospital acquired infections dramatically. We fundamentally believe that technology can make us healthier and save lives.
We were able to successfully develop the technology and reach our initial goal and simultaneously created an eco-friendly process of doing so. Our disruptive sound wave technology embeds long-lasting and highly effective properties to textiles. Our technology is now set to substantially reduce the pollution produced in the industry by eliminating the need for harmful chemicals and dramatically reducing water consumption.
4) How did MassChallenge help Sonovia scale their business?
Being a part of MassChallenge helped Sonovia in three aspects. Firstly, by connecting the company to relevant investors and other companies with which Sonovia had synergies with and helped navigate and open new markets where Sonovia wasn’t active. Secondly, the MassChallenge mentor that accompanied Sonovia helped us plan and build a business plan, business model, and market vision, which allowed us to better identify where our competitive advantage meets the market needs. Thirdly, MassChallenge continues to support Sonovia by providing the company with study tools and workshops.
5) You chose to list on TASE in 2020 – Congratulations! How did you make that decision?
The decision to advance to an IPO was a combination of the local stock-market trend which became very accommodating for deep-tech R&D companies, along with the hype for innovative anti-bacterial and antiviral technologies. The stock-market has clear advantages over VCs in terms of dilution, access to capital, liquidity, and valuation responsiveness to positive disclosures.
6) What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who aim to expand into the global market during these challenging times?
We believe that entrepreneurial companies have the upper hand as it’s in our DNA to pivot, especially during these challenging times. Being a startup, we quickly identified and determined how we could best apply our technology to help people get by in a safer way during the global pandemic and swiftly initiated the production of reusable antiviral and anti-bacterial facemasks. The product was initially aimed for donations to medical teams facing a shortage of protective gear, while fighting in the front lines of the pandemic.
Shortly after, we understood that there was a demand for high-quality protection gear for everyday citizens, so we decided to open an e-commerce website. By developing excellent customer service and offering express free shipping worldwide, we were able to sell over 250,000 masks to over 100 countries within a few months. Being a small startup, you do not have the luxury of losing your profitability for months in a row, so the only solution during unexpected events is to take whatever you have and keep on innovating.