Massey employees launch research-led innovation company in fight against COVID-19

Thursday 27 August 2020
Entrepreneurial staff have launched Mā masks, more comfortable and effective masks that produce less waste.
Massey employees launch research-led innovation company in fight against COVID-19 - image1

Mā masks have been designed with Massey expertise and access to the university's facilities.

Last updated: Friday 1 April 2022

A new face mask designed to be more comfortable, safe and effective for front line medical workers and the public has been launched by an entrepreneurial team of Massey staff.

The company, Mā Innovations, has registered the mask's design in New Zealand, which features a clear front, a two-way filtration system, comfortable seals and straps that are easy to take on and off. Instead of the standard, single-use, throw-away mask, the Mā mask has been designed to be long-lasting with replaceable N95 filters, to reduce waste.

Mā Innovations was founded by husband and wife Sean and Aida Rasmussen and supported by a wider team of Massey staff. Aida is a secondary school physics teacher at Waitakere College and Sean, Ngāti Porou, is the Technical Services Manager at the university’s School of Food and Advanced Technology. During lockdown, Sean was printing 3D masks for frontline medical staff when he began hearing first-hand feedback from surgeons, doctors and nurses about wearing masks.

“They were describing the challenges around wearing uncomfortable face masks for long periods of time and their concerns around the environmental impacts of single-use masks.

“The original masks they wear also cover most of the face, concealing facial expressions and making regular communication challenging, particularly for the hearing impaired.”

Sean’s brain began ticking about future opportunities. It was during a walk one day in Alert Level 4 that he was listening to a podcast about misinformation and mixed messages around the use of face masks. That’s when he realised there was a gap in the market for a mask that was comfortable, easy to use, and one that could show people’s expressions. That night he spent hours researching existing masks on the market and understanding the challenges and barriers associated with them. He then began sketching what a new mask could look like and by the next morning he had come up with its concept.

He ran his idea by Massey colleagues Professor of Robotics Johan Potgeiter and Dean of Enterprise Dr Gavin Clark who have built a system to empower staff and students to be innovators and entrepreneurs.

Johan Potgeiter says, “The model is based on the fast-moving consumer goods industry where product ideas can be developed quickly by engaging with industry to understand their interests and needs, developing minimum viable products, securing intellectual property rights and pitching the product back to industry.”

This support meant Sean’s idea for a mask went from an idea to the Mā Innovations business, within four months.

Gavin Clark says “Sometimes the need for speed trumps everything else – Sean exemplifies this. The university, through Johan, enabled him with uncomplicated access to expertise and facilities.”

The mask has already attracted Australian investment from a company that specialises in medical equipment and Rasmussen says the funding will be used to grow the company and production, quickly. Mā Innovations is talking to manufacturers in New Zealand and Australia and it has also launched a campaign on the fundraising platform, Kickstarter to raise global awareness and crowd-source funding before beginning production. Ramusssen’s hopeful masks will be available to buy from October/November this year.

“We have gone for crowdfunding to get the word out and that’s going to give us confidence to put money in. From there we’ll be looking at different retailers to make this accessible for the general public.”

Launching a company like Mā Innovations, (mā means fresh, clean and pure in te reo) is a dream for Rasmussen and as the company grows, he wants it to benefit to the community, boost local employment and support New Zealand’s manufacturing industry.

“It’s been a heck of a journey and we’ve put a whole lot of work in to get to where we are.

“Starting a business in product development is something I’ve been passionate about for a long time because I believe innovation is the way forward. Our aim is to develop ethical products by working with people on the ground to identify gaps in the market, design products that are truly fit for purpose and work with industry experts to create them. Massey has played a huge role in supporting us to make this happen.”