Bridget McGann-Curran, a fashion brand-ambassador, was the first recruit and became executive assistant, SterileLight’s sales director, and then Schnetz’s partner. McGann-Curran knew all about product “liftoff,” and her hiring would prove invaluable when launch time arrived for the original SterileLight™ sanitizer. She became the engine that drove the team.
The right dose of UVC light for disinfecting
To make that promise a reality, she enlisted the expertise of doctors, including Dr. Robert Murphy, an infectious disease physician at Northwestern University.
Next, Schnetz consulted with engineers and scientists in the field of UVC (ultraviolet C ) LED light. From Thom Connolly at International Light Technologies
she learned the importance of the correct “dosing” of the light by considering how far the objects were placed from the light and how long the exposure needed to be in order to disinfect the surface. Then SterileLight acquired the successful light-sterilizing technology of a company which used UVC LED light to deactivate bacteria, mold and other pathogens, and designed the first portable and affordable UVC LED sanitizing system, called ILLUMICIDE.
Made of molded plastic on the outside, with a sturdy handle, the ILLUMICIDE case stands 6 inches high, 12 inches wide, 11 inches deep, and houses 40 UVC lights emitting rays of a variable wave length in the C spectrum range for germicidal effectiveness. Lined with mirrored interior walls, this construction increases the efficacy of the light source, allowing the reflected rays to bombard the items in the case, reducing surface disinfection time from 30 minutes to only three.
In line with the company’s commitment to safety, the ILLUMICIDE case is constructed with seal-tight insulation creating a solid, safe barrier from the UVC LED light rays once closed. The ILLUMICIDE case can be plugged into any outlet or charged for up to 60 uses, and comes with a specially invented proprietary piece called the “Reactor,” which tests the potency of the lights.
Another group of underestimated female entrepreneurs
Even with the backing of great science and the creation of an effective device, the SterileLight team met with a lot of resistance. As a woman-owned business, they found their male counterparts underestimated their abilities, dismissed their vision, or thought they were naive — and in one case even tried to steal the concept they had developed.
When ILLUMICIDE first launched, a container of their newly shipped cases went missing from the loading docks at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Seven months later, as SterileLight continued its investigation into the disappearance of the missing prototype cases, the team happened upon a company selling the devices online, using the SterileLight brand and charging exactly the same amount that had been listed on the SterileLight website. Eventually SterileLight was able to get the imposter site shut down. (SterileLight is still in legal discovery to find out how the sellers obtained the devices).
Those and other challenges notwithstanding, the women of SterileLight were not deterred, and ILLUMICIDE soon found an appreciative audience, first in the cosmetics, beauty and spa industries for which it was initially intended, and then in a number of industries beyond that original scope. Today, healthcare providers are using it to disinfect masks, thermometers, stethoscopes and more. Construction companies have found it useful to protect their workers: They pop in their tools, masks, gloves, gear, even their electrical devices. In the hypervigilant arena of COVID-consciousness, ILLUMICIDE cases are being purchased for placement in office settings, to be used as needed by staff working closely together who might be sharing tools and equipment.
“I bought a unit for my office and one for my home and have been so impressed with how they function,” says consumer advocate Susie Goldner. “I did lots of research to find just the right product to protect my staff and to use with my family … ILLUMICIDE makes me confident that I am taking better care of myself. It’s become my security blanket.”
Schnetz’s next recruit was Belle Ghouleh, who with more than 20 years’ experience as a salon owner, master stylist, and educator — and with a health science degree, as well — joined the group as an industry expert.
“We have worked diligently through different hurdles to create products that will make a difference and raise awareness in disinfecting protocols for the world,” says Ghouleh.
Schnetz then turned to one of her colleagues and trusted clients, Ellen Tucker Schoen, a valuable business-development insider who eventually connected the SterileLight team with AT&T – and introduced them to SterileLight’s CountDown Antimicrobial screen protectors.
One of the first obstacles the women faced was the existence of several companies touting light-disinfecting products that were, shall we say, less than reliable. With the help of John Pasternak, a seasoned technology professional, Schnetz reverse-engineered all of the products she could find, discovering in the process that almost all were ineffective at best, and harmful at worst. Some even used light sources containing mercury, a known carcinogen and toxic agent.
“I was so mad that those charlatans were not only taking people’s money under false pretenses, but they were endangering people’s lives,” says Schnetz. That assessment propelled her to assure that whatever products SterileLight brought to market — as the company’s motto affirms — “you’re safer with SterileLight.”