Belleville’s Rillea Technologies was begun by the dynamic husband and wife duo of Lisa and Rob Hallsworth in late 2015, incorporating in May 2016.
Lisa has been a professional consulting engineer in Ontario running her own business for 24 of the 28 years she has worked in the chemical manufacturing business. Many of those years she spent at DuPont’s Kingston facility, but she has also worked with Fluor Daniel, Shaw Canada and Worley Parsons Canada. She has extensive experience and training in the realm of process safety and hazardous materials management.
Rob has also worked for many years in the manufacturing sector in a variety of management capacities including plant manager, general manager and vice-president of operations, in businesses such as food packaging, chemicals manufacturing, capital equipment design and manufacturing, and steel fabrication. For 22 years he worked out of the former ExxonMobil plant in Belleville.
As well, they brought in Hinten Jadeja to be the firm’s chief technology officer. Jadeja is an expert in software development and web-based technologies, and is the tech genius behind the scenes.
“I worked for over 22 years with DuPont helping them manage hazards, both physical and chemical, and I really wondered how small and medium-sized companies do it. How do they safely manage chemical hazards in particular? And I realized that they often don’t. We thought we could make it easier for small and medium sized businesses by developing software that would do a lot of the heavy lifting for them,” Lisa, Rillea’s CEO, said, explaining that this was the genesis for their current primary product, SDS RiskAssist, which is essentially a software application (aka an ‘app’) to allow front-line workers to have easy access to safety, handling and storage information about chemicals they may be working with.
“We have both spent a lot of time working in industry and have a really good feel for a situation where it’s 3 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon and what does the end user of a particular chemical need to know. That’s really what our focus is, the safety of that end user. And that’s probably why we’re a little bit different that other companies who focus on the front office staff and what they need to do around safety and compliance,” Rob, the company’s COO, added.
“In my experience, people tend to make things very complex to cover every situation and scenario and possible outcome and the result is that nobody really understands what is being said or taught when it comes to this kind of safety information. What we have learned over the years is that people want to do the right thing, but it has to be in clear, simple, understandable language, and it needs to be accessible. And that’s what really drives this whole process for me.”
For anyone who has had any sort of training around chemicals – for most of us it’s been WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System), which usually involves sitting around a boardroom and watching a slide show, referring back to a thick binder full of every shred of information about every chemical on the premises. These Safety Data Sheets (SDS) are often multiple pages long, with the most pertinent information buried in various places in the text.
Rillea’s SDS RickAssist essentially takes the key information straight from the documents themselves, creating an online version that highlights the main points in easy to understand language.
“SDS RiskAssist scans the documents and automatically extracts the information from the Safety Data Sheets that you read into the software as PDFs. It extracts the critical information that is used to handle the chemicals safely and delivers it to the worker’s phone in a one-page summary together with company information or generic safety information they would need to protect themselves,” Lisa explained.
“And we have a platform the entire company can use to build their very specific information on top of what our App extracts and they can consistently and clearly share it right across the organization, so whether you are at your location in Belleville, or Kingston, Toronto or the U.S., you’re sharing consistent information across the platform.”
As stated above, what sparked the desire to build this app, and create Rillea Technologies, was to offer smaller companies the chance to give their employees the same sort of comprehensive training and safety tools that huge corporations like DuPont and ExxonMobil have.
“Two million people die every year around the world just because they went to work and are exposed to hazardous materials. In Canada, three million people are exposed, and it’s very difficult sometimes to relate that exposure, which may seem innocuous at the time, to potentially having asthma or cancer later on,” Lisa said.
“What spurred me on was when I started working with firefighters and the fact that they have such a high rate of exposure to so many chemicals. When I first left my job, I started working with firefighters but then realized, having worked at DuPont for so many years, how much resources they put into ensuring that they are overseeing the wellbeing of their people. And I realized so many small and medium-sized companies don’t have that capability. So we wanted to create something that was cost effective, efficient and which was directed towards the end user of the chemicals.”
And Rob pointed out that this isn’t just meant for companies that use chemicals as part of a manufacturing process, or places like welding shops or garages that deal in gases and fluids. It also means situations involving janitors, or teachers and students in schools.
“The example that I have used in some of our pitches is the school where they have chemicals for chemistry class and they have students who don’t really have an appreciation for chemicals; they are just trusting that the school is overseeing their wellbeing. So the end user in this case might be a student in that chemistry lab or in the wood or auto shop class. It can be the lifeguards who check on the chemicals in public pools or someone who works for a cleaning business cleaning offices at night.”
The idea seems logical, but the fact that it hasn’t really been attempted before means there is a lot of educating and convincing that needs to happen for the year-old Rillea Technologies to start making serious inroads and generating sales.
“We’re initially targeting people who are already very savvy about this issue, so we’re working with safety professionals and safety consultants. And as we’re a start-up company, we have to engage people who will adopt the software the fastest – the low-hanging fruit, if you will – and gain traction that way. We are very early and really exploring a number of sectors to see where we can get the most interest and traction and then we will go from there,” said Lisa.
“We need to earn our street credibility. As a start-up, people are reluctant to just jump in and invest in the product for their company. They want to know who we are, what our backgrounds are, who our other customers are. So it’s all about finding those early adopters who recognize the problem [safe use and handling of chemicals] and that we have a solution that will make their lives easier while achieving what they want to achieve, which is safety within their workforce.”
Rillea has been well received by various business organizations and other companies within the Bay of Quinte Region, and there are also favourable signals that SDS RickAssist may become part of a federal government program, which will definitely give the Hallsworths the vaunted ‘street cred.’
“There are some great programs out there to help companies start up, and they help you avoid the mistakes many others have made. We have worked with launch labs, the Innovation Park in Kingston, with some incubator programs. We have met with angel investors and venture capitalists and local chambers of commerce,” said Rob.
“There is a whole infrastructure available to support companies starting out. You’ve got to go look for it and you have to be willing to listen to what they have to say and accept that they’re not going to have all the answers but that they are offering you a path – but you still have to tread down that path yourself. I have really been impressed with the quality of advice we have gotten throughout the Bay of Quinte region and the number of people who are actively putting their heart and soul into helping people like us starting companies.”
In the future, besides having SDS RiskAssist adopted by companies and organizations far and wide, the Hallsworths said they want to add an after sales service and also a risk assessment component to their offerings.
“We would certainly like to expand our customer base, which would require us to potentially hire engineers to help us with risk assessment for these companies and safety professionals to help support the risk assessment process. We hope that we can expand in such a way that we can employ more local people, and offer them some very good jobs.”
The Hallsworths moved to the Belleville area a quarter of a century ago for work, and have fallen in love with the region.
“We lived in Toronto and we wanted to move out of the big city and be able to raise a family. And I wanted to be able to stay home at least part time, and it’s just impossible to do that in the city. We have everything we need at hand, even things like conference rooms if we need them. There are lots of amenities and services locally that we can use for our business,” said Lisa.
“It’s also about the quality of life. We have everything we could want and it’s all very accessible and within a reasonable price range. Plus you’re not fighting through hordes of people and there’s no commuting. You’ve got the Bay of Quinte, you can go to places like Bon Echo Park, there’s the Empire Theatre and amazing restaurants and Prince Edward County is a few minutes away. There’s a ton of stuff to do here and it’s all so accessible, both financially and time wise,” added Rob.
For more information about Rillea Technologies and SDS RiskAssist, visit www.rilleatechnologies.com.