'Embarrassing problem' to business success

Former Dunedin woman Frances Anderson with the Patney sleep positioner she has invented. Photo:...
Former Dunedin woman Frances Anderson with the Patney sleep positioner she has invented. Photo: Supplied
Frances Anderson’s first memory of snoring was as a 13-year-old at boarding school, where she was "totally ostracised" for it.

With a genetic propensity for snoring — her mother could "take the roof off" — it was something that had been the "bane" of her life for years, Mrs Anderson says.

The catalyst for doing something about it came when she woke one morning and her husband told her she had stopped breathing in the night and that she needed to do something about it. She had already had surgery and tried various devices, none of which worked, and so she set about solving her problem.

Snoring, she explained, was a very embarrassing problem; not only did it often disturb a partner’s sleep, it sometimes led to people not doing activities, such as tramping, because of it.  It also meant waking up tired,  and  was not only a health and wellbeing issue but  also affected relationships.

About 40% of people over the age of 35 snored and the percentage increased with age, she said.

"I set about trying to solve my own problem and I did," she said.

It led to "Patney" being launched on World Sleep Day, March 16. 

The sleep positioner  had been independently proven by the University of Otago’s WellSleep Centre to be effective in reducing snoring. Used in place of a normal pillow, it promoted a good sleep posture and supported an open airway so users could breathe freely. She believed it had the potential to become a global product, Mrs Anderson said.

Originally from Southland and now living in Tamahere, near Hamilton, Mrs Anderson has a background in manufacturing, logistics and project management. She also spent 15 years living in Dunedin.

The name Patney was payback to her mother Pat, also a prolific snorer,  for passing on the affliction, she quipped.

Her mother was called Patney by her grandchildren as a term of endearment and the name would now live on as an aid for snorers. Tired of dealing with the shame and guilt of being a snorer, she initially invented the product to help with her own snoring and didn’t think much more about it. Then several friends expressed interest in trying one out, leading to the development of her own business.

She came up with a product made of  natural latex,  which had an excellent "memory" as it bounced back to its original form . Natural latex also had a host of other benefits, including anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties and that it was  temperature neutral.

After importing some slabs of latex — and initially trying to cut it with a bread knife —  she spent six months sculpting her product before taking her prototype and drawings to Sri Lanka, where the latex mould was made.

Throughout the process, she had been talking to Dr Angela Campbell from the WellSleep Centre, which then did a study of it, as she was not prepared to take it to market unless it was properly validated. The trial  also went through the Ministry of Health’s ethics committee.

Mrs Anderson stressed it was not aimed at people with serious sleep apnoea who needed proper clinical assessment and possibly a sleep apnoea machine.

"I’m not a medical person, I’m a person that solved a problem — my problem," she said.

It was individualised to a person’s height and weight and included various sophisticated features, she said.

Patney had been through the Hamilton-based business incubator SODA Inc and it had also been the recipient of several Callaghan Innovation grants. Many good people had been involved in the process and she could not have done it without them, she said.

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