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Simon Hassett

Simon Hassett on educated innovation

By Simon Hassett

Founder, VapeGuardian

Since launching the UK’s first vape sensor six months ago, Simon Hassett has seen unprecedented demand for a product now being used by a rapidly increasing number of schools in England and abroad.

The creator of VapeGuardian initiated his interest in digital product creation when he was self-taught in ecommerce to transform his parents’ family business. Becoming a specialist in problem-solving tech, Simon went on to develop a number-one smartphone app along with a suite of other digital products, websites, and apps.

Now, what began as a solution to an e-cigarettes problem in schools brought to his attention by a teacher friend, has become a life’s work for the father-of-four innovator who is on a mission to change the culture of vaping for the next generation.

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VapeGuardian is the UK's first vape sensor, what was your process for developing it?

It started off with trying to work out why smoke detectors didn't detect vape and looking into how vapes work.

I then employed some PhD students to do research on how vaping affects the air. I used that research to build a sensor that detects changes in the air that happen when somebody vapes.

The hardware that I've built looks like a smoke detector but uses lasers. It's a non-contact device, it reads the air quality and sends information back through the cloud to a system which then identifies if vape is in the air; if there is it sends out a notification to members of staff in that school or organisation where is installed.

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How has it been received on the market?

I started making it in June last year and selling in October. In the first six months, we’re approaching 150 schools in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Spain, and Portugal with enquiries from all over the world.

It’s a hot topic, there’s a lot of news interest and we’re working with politicians to try and change the law and introduce some regulation around vaping to make it harder for children to get into it.

What began as seeing a gap in the market and starting a business has become a life’s mission for me. The more that I learn about vaping and the effects it has, the more dedicated I become to the cause.

What are the effects of vaping that have motivated you to become a cause-first business?

51% of people who vape have never smoked before, despite it being brought to market as a solution to quit smoking. And 18% of children aged 14 to 17 would consider themselves to be e-cigarette users. I’m working with Alder Hey hospital’s innovation department to conduct some studies to get more concrete evidence about the health effects of vaping.

A big concern is the amount of nicotine in vapes that is causing the children that use them to become addicted.

Our big problem is the way that they’re marketed. They’re readily available in every shop you go into, they’re multi-coloured with attractive packaging and flavours like candy floss that obviously appeal to children.

"51% of people who vape have never smoked before, despite it being brought to market as a solution to quit smoking. And 18% of children aged 14 to 17 would consider themselves to be e-cigarette users."

How are you working to change the problem of vaping at its source?

We’re working with some companies and MPs to try and bring in new laws and controls.

We have a three-stage plan of regulation. The first stage is we want more regulation and control over the sale and accessibility of the product. The second is we’d like to call on Government and the NHS to start advertising the negative health effects of vaping so people are more educated. And the third is eventually we’d like a ban in public indoor spaces similar to that of smoking.

What advice would you give to other innovative tech start-up companies?

Utilise freelancers. I think since COVID things have become a lot more flexible with businesses. You don’t need to have staff sitting in an office when there’s an ocean of highly qualified workers out there. Like the group of PhD students who did research for me – they all worked independently of each other; we never met in person, but they did an incredible job.

What are the biggest challenges that you’ve faced in growing the business so far?

One of our biggest challenges is expansion abroad. The problem that we’re trying to solve isn’t exclusive to the UK; we have companies in other countries wanting to sell the products or buy directly from us. It’s a challenge to find somebody with the expertise to move into other countries, and every country is different.

The business has had a very successful start, where would you like it to be in another six months’ time?

I’d like in six months to see other companies come to market to make sensors more accessible to schools. We’ve worked on such low-price points to make it more affordable for schools and I think more competition in the market will push us and other companies to do better. Ideally, we will eradicate vaping in schools and have a big impact on young people vaping.

"The more that I learn about vaping and the effects it has, the more dedicated I become to the cause."

Simon Hassett - Founder, VapeGuardian

Is there someone who has supported you through your journey?

Jean, my wife, is not only the mother of our four children but also my business partner. Her unwavering support and active involvement in the forefront of the VapeGuardian project have allowed me to take risks and devote everything to this endeavour. I am grateful for her amazing support, which has made everything possible.

As far as someone look towards for inspiration, it has to be my dad. He’s always been self-employed; he worked in a completely different industry but if I need advice or an opinion – he’s the one that I go to.

Where is your favourite place to visit when you need to get some perspective?

I’m from close to Bassetts Pole in the West Midlands which is the most landlocked point in the country. So, whenever I need some headspace I always try and find a body of water; I normally go to Weston Shore and sit on the coast for a while to get some clarity.

Simon Hassett