Making it work: Irish firm targets US hotel market with wearable ‘panic button’ for workers

HaloSOS’s device is designed to protect staff as more US hotel chains sign up to initiative aimed at improving safety

Fiona Moloney and Liam Darling, founders of HaloSOS. The pair met while working in the telecoms sector in Dublin. Picture: Fergal Phillips

HaloSOS, the Irish-owned wearable safety start-up, is targeting the US market with its wrist-worn “panic button” device for hotel workers.

A growing number of hotels in the US are signing up to the Five-Star Promise introduced by the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA), aimed at improving staff safety. As part of the initiative the hotels are making portable safety devices available to staff.

The idea is to help protect guest-facing and lone workers, such as cleaners, in the event that they are subjected to assault or harassment.

According to the AHLA, close to 60 hotel operators representing 20,000 properties have already committed to the Five-Star Promise. Among them are well-known brands such as Marriott, Hyatt and Best Western.

Fiona Moloney, co-founder and chief executive of HaloSOS, hopes to bring some of these big US hotel chains on board when the hospitality sector starts to get back on its feet in 2021.

“Our key target is the US and the five million or so rooms there that now, through legislation, union demands and brand mandates, require a location-based staff safety solution,” Moloney said.

“It’s a perfect storm for us and we are already in early talks with hotel operators over there. Really, we’re just waiting for travel restrictions to ease a bit, and for the industry to begin its recovery, so we can get over there in person and start demonstrating our technology.”

HaloSOS is a voice-activated security alert system. A wrist-worn device, it can be used by hotel staff to trigger an alert when needed, which goes directly to on-site security personnel along with their location data.

“The idea is that workers can use a word to trigger the alert,” Moloney said.

“They don’t have to try to find their phone, press buttons or input numbers if they are in danger or they are hurt.

“Using precise location data, responders can then get to them more quickly, which can be really critical in dangerous situations.”

HaloSOS recently raised €159,000 on the Spark Crowdfunding platform.

Moloney said Enterprise Ireland had agreed to provide match funding of up to €175,000 over two stages.

“They have already committed to €75,000 and we will get another €100,000 when certain agreed milestones have been reached,” she said.

Originally from Tallaght in south Dublin, the 52-year-old established HaloSOS in Australia in 2018 with co-founder Liam Darling.

The pair met while working in the telecoms sector in Dublin and subsequently relocated to Sydney.

They returned home after securing €50,000 in International Competitive Start Funding from Enterprise Ireland. The competition is open to overseas entrepreneurs in manufacturing and internationally traded services who are willing to move their business to Ireland.

“That early funding was very useful to us, because it brought us back to Ireland to our own turf and to an ecosystem that we knew and understood,” Moloney said.

HaloSOS took part in the International Security Accelerator run by CorkBIC and was named the Most Investable Company at the programme’s Demo Day last December. The start-up employs four full-time staff in Stoneybatter on Dublin’s northside.