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December 2007
The Science of Clean
By Casey Jacobus

     Halo Technologies is an amazing success story in which a couple of entrepreneurs combined what they knew with what they wanted, and brought an entirely new product to the marketplace.

     About five years ago, Ken Garcia and his wife Carrie had the idea of combining the powerful cleaning and germ-killing ultraviolet light technology with the latest innovations in lightweight vacuum cleaners to produce a revolutionary new machine. The Halo Ultraviolet Vacuum kills dust mites, mold, bacteria, lice, fleas and viruses, including influenza, without using chemicals, at the same time it delivers top vacuuming performance with powerful suction and a high-output motor.

     In an incredibly short time, Garcia was able to find the people who would design, engineer and build the Halo. He recruited two partners, Patrick Hurley and Jeff Collins, who complimented his own set of skills and experience, and together they chose Charlotte as the place to launch their new business.

     Two years after incorporation, Halo Technologies is selling over 50,000 Halo vacuums a year through distributors like Sears, Best Buy, Amazon.com and Bed Bath and Beyond. Good Housekeeping magazine has pronounced the Halo “the most innovative vacuum of the year.”

     “There were hundreds of issues along the way,” laughs Garcia. “Every time we came to a ‘full stop’, we always found a way around it.”

 

An Idea is Born

     The Halo story actually begins with the birth of the Garcias’ triplets seven years ago. Addison, Bennett, and Carson Garcia were premature, each weighing just over two pounds, and they faced compromised immune systems. The boys spent almost three months in the sterile environment of a neonatal hospital nursery. Ken, and wife Carrie, had to scrub in and don hospital gowns to visit the tiny babies. When the babies were ready to come home, their parents wanted to be able to provide them with the same clean environment to which they were accustomed.

     “We were advised to rip up all the carpeting in the house,” says Ken. “Surprised, we did research that showed us just how dirty home carpeting really is.”

     The Garcias discovered that a square yard of carpet can contain more than 100,000 dust mites. Dust mite waste and fecal matter can create forty pounds of dust a year in a 1,500 square foot house. Exposure to dust mites in the first year of a baby’s life can trigger a lifelong allergy or even asthma. Multiple studies have shown that successive vacuuming with traditional vacuums can not significantly reduce dust mite populations.

     Bacteria also thrive in carpet, even new carpet. Indoor levels of many bacteria can be two to five times that of outdoor bacteria and can lead to bothersome smells and even salmonella infection. Fleas, as well, can thrive in pile carpeting and ticks can live in carpets for months in a dormant state without food.

     “We knew that dust mites are the number one cause of allergies,” continues Ken, “and they are a factor in 50 to 80 percent of all asthma cases. Also, asthma in children has more than doubled since 1980.”

     The Garcias were reluctant to tear out their carpeting. But, with three small babies, they were spending most of their time on the floor. Here they fed the boys, played with them, and read to them. As infants, the triplets enjoyed “tummy time” on the floor and soon they were crawling and could no longer be confined to quilts or blankets that could be washed.

    “We realized that even though we vacuumed our carpet, it was still not clean. We needed to be able to clean beyond a traditional vacuum cleaner,” says Carrie Garcia. “Short of removing the carpet completely, we needed another solution.”

 

Seeing the Light

     Having triplets was both a humbling experience and one that changed Ken Garcia’s life significantly. Garcia, now 38, grew up in Houston Texas. He graduated from Cornell University in New York State, where he met Carrie, and then the University of Texas Law School. He was a practicing attorney before the children were born, but he soon went to work for Ecovation, a water treatment company in Victor, New York, just outside Rochester.

     When he started working for Ecovation, the company was in “a world of trouble,” according to Garcia. “They had 14 employees and couldn’t make payroll.”

     Garcia revamped the management system of the failing company and grew the business, which was recently named the number one fastest growing business in Rochester and the fourteenth fastest growing business in the country.

     Ecovation advised its clients to use UV-C light to disinfect water. Garcia knew that hospitals also used UV light to disinfect surgical rooms and equipment. It occurred to him that perhaps this technology could likewise be used to disinfect carpeting.

     Garcia sent his ideas in a two to three page fax to Dr. James R. Bolton of Bolton Photosciences, Inc. Bolton is a leading industry expert on UVC technology and applications, with over 250 published works, and is currently the Executive Director of the International Ultraviolet Association. Upon receiving his fax, Bolton called Garcia almost immediately to say the concept was a great idea and to offer his help in developing the specific UVC technology necessary for a vacuum cleaner. In addition, KEK Engineering (a consumer products engineering and design firm in Rochester) was willing to help design what the new machine would look like.

     The ultraviolet component of sunlight is the main reason microbes die in the outside air. In particular, research has shown that ultraviolet rays with wavelengths of 253.7nm are optimal for killing microorganisms, such as dust mites. The Halo patent-pending UVC bulb was designed and engineered to emit UV rays at exactly 253.7 nm. This wavelength is in the range commonly called the “germicidal bandwidth”: because such wavelengths deactivate the DNA of these microorganisms and thus destroy their ability to multiply and cause disease.

     In early 2005 Halo engaged Dr. Glen Needham, PhD. to test the effectiveness of the Halo Vacuum on dust mites. Dr. Needham is a professor of Entomology and Acarology (the study of mites) at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. He is one of the leading experts on dust mites in the world. After running tests on the Halo Vacuum bulb chamber, Dr. Needham presented his findings to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology under the title “Ultraviolet C Exposure is Fatal to House Dust Mite Eggs.”

     The study concluded that: “Even small doses of UVC seem to have a fairly significant effect on American house dust mite reproduction. We have found that as little as one second of UVC results in the death of American house dust mite (AHD) eggs, and 5 seconds resulted in nearly 100 percent mortality. UVC has the potential to break the life cycle of the American house dust mite by killing the embryonic stage, thus stopping the production of allergenic proteins in feces and exuviae (cast skins).”

     Given the success of their tests on the American house dust mite, the team at The Ohio State University then proceeded to test fleas and lice with similar positive results.

     Garcia now had a bulb chamber that was proven to effectively kill germs through ultraviolet technology. But he was determined to incorporate the bulb chamber with a traditional vacuum cleaner.

 

The Idea Becomes Upright

     “Carrie was adamant,” says Ken. “Don’t give her another process to do before or after vacuuming; give her a machine that would kill germs while it cleaned. In fact, she came up with the name for the Halo, saying she wanted to feel so good about what she was doing for her family while she cleaned that she would feel there was a ‘halo’ around her head.”

     The new machine had to be lightweight; it had to be as effective as traditional vacuum cleaners with the traditional above floor attachments, and its filtration had to be the very best. The Halo UVX Ultraviolet Upright Vacuum Cleaner meets all those requirements. At just 17 pounds, it is easy to use and maneuver. With two powerful motors, one for suction and the other to drive the brush bar, it delivers top performance. Disposable dust filter bags are made with high quality HEPA material to provide maximum air filtration. And, it comes with a 13-foot detachable hose, crevice tool and dusting brush that store on the machine, for cleaning stairs, furniture and fabrics.

     However, Garcia ran into trouble when he tried finding a company to manufacture his new machine. Finally, after several trips to China, he found the answer. At this point, Halo went into over drive production.

 

Making a Clean Sweep

     Today, Halo is selling its products as fast as it can manufacture them, at a rate of over 50,000 thousand this year. The company has two vacuums, the Halo UV-ST, which retails for $499, and a smaller version, the Halo UVX, which sells for $399, and disposable filter replacement bags for both cleaners.

     “Our biggest problem is that we can’t produce enough to meet demand,” says Garcia. “We’re constantly having to tell retailers we’re going to be late with their order.”

     So much has happened in such a short time. By the time Halo Technologies, Inc incorporated in April 2005, Garcia had acquired two partners. Jeff Collins was working for Dyson in Chicago and Patrick Hurley, Garcia’s roommate at the University of Texas, was a lawyer in Dallas. Garcia was still working for Ecovation in New York.

     “None of us wanted to relocate to Chicago, Dallas or Rochester, so we tried to find a common location to launch the product that made sense,” says Garcia. “Since 73 percent of the consumer outlet stores are east of the Mississippi, we started looking along the Eastern seaboard. We discovered that 55 to 60 percent of all retail stores are within a one-day truck trip of Charlotte. Besides, the climate’s great and the people are nice.”

     So they made Charlotte the new home for Halo Technologies and 13 out of Halo’s 17 employees relocated to Charlotte. Garcia says it is easy to attract good employees because the cost of living is reasonable and Charlotte is a growing and energized place.

     Both Garcias, Hurley and Collins, despite different titles on their business cards, share the work of running and growing the young company.

     “Our work is completely interchangeable,” says Garcia. “No one here is territorial. We have complete confidence and trust in one another.”

     Consequently, while Collins is “fantastic at sales” and heads up the marketing, Hurley, who is technically in charge of operations is also involved in sales, and Ken Garcia also participates in marketing. Garcia estimates that the development of the Halo has cost over $5 million and the marketing and ad campaign will cost another $20 million over the next year and a half. The company has about 30 investors.

     Halo has paired up with Charlotte’s own BooneOakley, launching ads nationally to introduce the Halo targeting women with kids under 10. The media mix includes are a 44 foot by 34 foot 3-D billboard in New York’s Times Square, television spots on such shows as “Today,” “Ellen,” “Wheel of Fortune” and “Entertainment Tonight,” print ads in such magazines as People, Oprah, Parenting, Real Simple and Parents, and direct-response materials.

     One commercial features swirling light patterns and the words, “Just before dying dust mites report seeing a brilliant flash of light,” referring to the Halo’s ultraviolet germ-killing system.

     While the company has seen incredible growth since its inception, Garcia expects much more in the next five years. He also expects the company to move into more product development, including both floor care products and non-floor care products.

     “We have determined there is a significant market for our product,” says Garcia. “And, we have set incredibly high expectations for ourselves. Our goal is to make a meaningful impact on the lives of our employees and our customers. We really intend to make a difference; just how big a difference, we don’t know yet.”

Casey Jacobus is a Lake Norman-based freelance writer.
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