TECHNOLOGY entrepreneur and investor Mehdi Qerim says Ballarat has the perfect environment to manufacture a new cutting-edge mask designed to protect frontline workers.
Mr Qerim is passionate about what could be achieved in his new hometown with the technology he has co-founded with Booking.com creator Adrian Critchlow. He said Ballarat had a growing talent pool in innovation, big enough industry and skill to make things happen and yet retained the intimacy of country community support.
Ballarat is a shortlisted site, along with Port Melbourne and Geelong, to begin manufacturing ActiveMask products within three months.
ActiveMasks are designed for high-quality professional and personal use. Masks incorporate filtration features used in the British Army and NASA.
Mr Qerim said he might be biased, but he believe Ballarat would be a great fit.
"Gekko's ventilation win is a great example. You look at Ballarat's (Base) hospital being so big here and growing and the medical technology that's here. Why not have Ballarat be the eminent place of medical technology in the country," Mr Qerim said.
"There is a good talent pool of people. There is good engagement from state and federal MPs, Committee for Ballarat and the City of Ballarat - that's exactly what you want.
"My head says Ballarat and my heart says Ballarat...We hope there will be a groundswell of support and that is exactly what fuels innovation and investment."
The Active Mask prototype and design phase is complete. Australian standard compliance testing is underway and Mr Qerim said the process now was to pull together all the parts needed for manufacturing.
This process started last summer, before the coronavirus pandemic kicked in across Australia.
Mr Qerim and Mr Critchlow, who also has a background in solar power, started looking into filtration management and systems, including masks, during the bushfires.
The pair caught up over a glass of red wine and started to see this could be something bigger.
Mr Qerim said they took the pessimistic view that something was going seriously wrong in facing coronavirus and masks were going to become a whole lot more important sooner.
They stuck to four guiding principles.
Firstly, the project had to be Australian designed and made to reinforce domestic innovation, manufacturing and jobs.
Secondly, the masks has to be reusable, environmentally friendly and industrial strength. Mr Qerim said now mask-wearing was mandatory in Victoria, many single-use items had become a lot like the "coffee cup" issue.
Thirdly, they had to fit people and be comfortable.
Fourthly, they needed the potential to be branded whether it be for police, emergency services or flight attendants.
"(Consumer focus in the pandemic) has even gone beyond just Australian-made now. It's gone for a demand for Victorian-made. We want to allow Victorians to have the mask first, then for Australia, then for the rest of the world," Mr Qerim said.
"We don't want reliance on the rest of the world and that goes for technology, dye, printing press and supplies."
Mr Qerim moved his family to the Hepburn region, from Melbourne, having fallen in love with the area and place that started as their holiday home. His children go to school in Ballarat. He sees strong potential in property in Ballarat as a growth corridor. They feel like Ballarat is home.
Mr Qerim said there was a real opportunity to create jobs in Ballarat should ActiveMask set up here.
The design can incorporate a face shield, suitable for places like meat works or allied health, and higher-level shields for surgeons. There are also plans for a utility belt holder and cleaning apparatus to steralise the mask using ultraviolet light.
"We want to be part of health, Ballarat could be part of that," Mr Qerim said.
If you are seeing this message you are a loyal digital subscriber to The Courier, as we made this story available only to subscribers. Thank you very much for your support and allowing us to continue telling Ballarat's story. We appreciate your support of journalism in our great city.