Recruiting bacteria to fight bacteria

Better Air is applying probiotics to make homes and offices healthier places to be.

It is sometimes necessary to be a successful entrepreneur to dare to switch fields. Michael Hoffman sold Telekol to Nokia Corporation (NYSE; LSE; HEX: NOK) and then thought about his next move. In 2005, he decided to operate in Israel, "even though I had, and still have, offers from the US cleantech world," he says. Hoffman linked up with Yuli Horesh, an adman and founder of the Wisconsin program in Israel, who was working in cleantech.

The switch was no small matter. "In high tech, like in finance, there is no room for approximation. Either what you did works to a degree that can be measured, or you stop doing it and go home," says Hoffman. "In cleantech, you know what you want to achieve, but you talk about probabilities, chances, and percentages."

Hoffman, Horesh and Adv. Shai Kutttner founded EcoSense Group, which focuses on ecological ventures. The first venture that the trio founded won an Oil Refineries Ltd. (TASE:ORL) tender to clean oil sludge. They subsequently entered the sewage treatment field, recycling and isolating industrial waste sludge. Their flagship is Better Air, and Hoffman admits that the name was inspired by Better Place Inc.

The market: The world is full of harmful bacteria. Eliminating these harmful bacteria is an integral part of cleaning, whether at home, in the office, or in hospitals. All cleaning materials include disinfectants, and are basically warfare against bacteria. Every laundry load seeks to remove them or to protect against them. Could it be that we've erred, and that the war against bacteria should not be the paramount goal?

The product: Probiotics is a field best known from the food supplements business. Use of probiotics began when it became clear that the total elimination of bacteria is impossible, and even ineffective. We depend on "good" bacteria for a range of bodily functions, and they even help protect us against "bad" bacteria. Where there are good bacteria, it is hard for bad bacteria to develop and thrive, because the space is already occupied.

"Humanity in its great wisdom has upset the biological balance," says Hoffman. "When you carry out bio-kill of bacteria, you kill them all indiscriminately, and the vicious bacteria actually return faster and stronger."

Better Air wants to do the opposite - to fill the space with good or neutral bacteria, which will harm bad bacteria and prevent them from thriving. The company is cooperating with a European manufacturer of probiotic hospital cleaning supplies. The products are already successfully sold in Europe, and have even undergone tests to prove their effectiveness. Better Air is also cooperating with Israel's Air Top Ltd., a producer of air fresheners, on marketing.

With the help of these two capabilities, Better Air has developed a probiotic solution that lasts in the air. This is not an easy matter. The solution diffuses in the air and the droplets land on surfaces exposed to contamination, including beds, kitchen countertops, and the grooves between tiles. "Bacteria have no wings and they don’t fly. They land and accumulate in colonies in damp places where there is food," says Hoffman.

Better Air's solution is not toxic. "It can even be used to wash fruit and eat it immediately without rinsing," says Hoffman. "The good bacteria are good for everyone. No one is allergic to them, even in large quantities."

Better Air markets its probiotic solution to homes and big office buildings, as well as for buses and planes. "The system is fully automatic. It's possible to disperse the bacteria only at night, or during the day, or during a particular season. We offer customers a laboratory test after a few months to show them that this really works," says Hoffman. An individual will pay NIS 100-200 a month for the service, and an office building will pay NIS 0.05-0.70 per square meter, depending on consumption.

Stage of operations: Better Air has 14 employees, as well as a team of independent consultants. It began marketing the product in Israel, and it will soon complete pilots and the initial penetration in Israel, after which it will go abroad. The systems are already in use in several leading office buildings in Israel, including Dizengoff Center and the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange building. The company also has an agreement with Hilton hotels in the UK. Current sales total a few hundred thousand shekels a year.

Better Air has raised NIS 8 million from private investors and it is currently seeking an additional NIS 1-3 million.

The next step: The company hopes to penetrate the hospitals market in the future.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on June 26, 2012

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012

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