By Hailey Eisen
Being part of an emerging health and safety technology company with a focus on hygiene outcomes is an interesting place to be more than a year into a global pandemic. For Natalie Ambler, Co-Founder and Director, Innovation and Development at OptiSolve®, the past year has been significant to say the least.
“Understanding cleaning has become a lot more important, and while I used to spend time explaining why infection prevention was important, since COVID-19, I no longer have to do that,” Natalie says.
OptiSolve was born out of business expertise in the cleaning and disinfection industry, and as a result of the big, important questions a small team began to ask. Its two key offerings are a proprietary surface imaging technology that enables you to visualize contamination, and a quality management system that produces a comprehensive program to validate cleaning and disinfection. Essentially, you’re enabled to answer the question: “Is this clean?”
Natalie began working on the technology behind OptiSolve more than five years ago as part of a team at an existing company that formulates and manufactures cleaning products. The team began working with an academic partner to find answers to their own questions about product innovation. Specifically, they wanted to know what more could be done about two key issues: despite living in a microbial world, people have high expectations for clean, healthy spaces; and despite leaps in sanitation, medicine, and technology, one of the world-wide causes of death remains infections. How could they better support practitioners in maintaining healthy spaces? How could they improve education and training? And how could they identify when a space was clean?
“Understanding cleaning has become a lot more important, and while I used to spend time explaining why infection prevention was important, since COVID-19, I no longer have to do that.”
“In the beginning, we started taking images of surfaces to determine the efficacy of products, but quickly realized that being able to come up with new test methodologies was an extremely innovative and interesting area to be working in,” she explains.
Early on, the team was able to secure grant funding which allowed them to transition their research project into the development of a surface imaging technology. “We knew the industry standard for cleaning and disinfection validation was predominantly visual assessment and checking a box, which wasn’t necessarily the best methodology.”
OptiSolve became a stand-alone company two years ago— but the journey began long before that for Natalie. In university, she completed an undergraduate degree in sciences, fueling a desire to find answers and an interest in systems thinking. She went back to school later in her career to complete a Master’s in Business Strategy and Sustainability. She found her passion point in the intersection of science and business.
“My career has been focused on having a scientific mindset for finding real-world solutions through innovation, strategy, and business development,” she says. “In the work I’ve had, that’s been a pillar for me.”
As a mom of young daughters, Natalie says it’s important to demonstrate what passion looks like. “We talk about following your purpose,” she says. “I’m in start-up mode and spend a lot of time working, and they’re so supportive of what I do because they can see the passion I have.” The excitement Natalie feels about this technology and its potential is palpable — which has certainly helped as COVID-19 has ushered in a whole new set of challenges and opportunities. In 2020 change came fast and furious for many industries, especially around cleaning standards. While the OptiSolve technology and services were deployed in healthcare and food services settings, they are now also targeting commercial facilities, hospitality, government, and other places where health and safety have become a lot more important.
“We provide systems, tracking, and reporting for cleaning and disinfection productivity which helps facility managers support their duty of care responsibility,” Natalie explains. This is often a big part of the re-opening strategies for many companies.
“I love the collaborative aspect of the business, knowing that the sum is always greater than the individual parts.”
Looking ahead, OptiSolve is also focused on the idea of precision cleaning, which is another area Natalie and the OptiSolve team are very passionate about. “Precision cleaning uses resources more effectively for better outcomes, saving time and effort,” she explains. “In response to COVID-19, many have been employing ‘deep cleaning’ which may include spraying entire rooms with chemicals without knowing the unintended consequences. Our aim is to help people better understand what’s on a surface and how to clean it with the appropriate products and processes.”
With a small but dedicated team — including a chemist, CTO, marketing coordinator, and supportive business advisor/investor — OptiSolve now relies on strategic partnerships to accelerate its growth. “We’ve worked with one of Canada’s leading R&D medical device companies on the engineering side, as well as fantastic academic partners, and software and digital experience experts to enhance our technology,” Natalie explains. “I love the collaborative aspect of the business, knowing that the sum is always greater than the individual parts,” she says.
“Our greatest challenge now is being able to scale, and that’s why I was so pleased to be accepted into ventureLAB’s Tech Undivided program,” Natalie explains. As part of the accelerator’s third cohort of the program, designed for founders building breakthrough solutions leveraging hardware and/or enterprise software technology, OptiSolve will have access to industry experience, strategic partner connections, and a dedicated ventureLAB advisor. “Working with Tech Undivided helps us think big about what we can do to make OptiSolve into a global leader for the detection, diagnostics, and surveillance of environmental risk,” Natalie explains. “It’s an exciting opportunity and we’re really looking forward to what’s to come.”