Accidental entrepreneur Tarek Al Emam’s CV, at first glance, makes him an unlikely inventor. But his ideas have taken him on a journey from exclusive beach clubs for the super wealthy to helping some of the most desperate families in the world.
Al Emam’s background is in premium credit cards. For 15 years he ran a team of relationship managers for American Express, serving the top tier of card users in the Middle East and North Africa. In May 2015, a better offer for a similar role came along and at first it seemed like the next logical step in an already successful consumer banking career. But, before he signed the new contract, Al Emam decided he needed a career break. Time to relax, recoup and recharge.
“I had a good career but when I was about to sign the new contract I realised I needed a break to think about what I wanted to do,” the Real Innovation Awards winner says of his old life.
A month later, staying cool poolside on a blazing hot Dubai day, he dunked his towel in the water and laid it out. Enjoying the cooling effect, he wondered why a more convenient and effective method didn’t exist.
Curious, he investigated existing cooling products, none of which were particularly effective including gel cooling pads sold in pharmacies. Small and weak, they cooled only for five minutes. Undeterred, he probed further, examining the formula they used, before contacting a manufacturer in China.
Playing around with ratios in the gels he significantly improved the cooling effects and quickly sketched out a range of products; for necks, wrists, mats and pets including horses and dogs. The Freezmate range went on sale in November the same year.
Hoteliers and premium health clubs were early adopters, commissioning bespoke cooling mats to a custom size and weight. These commercial bulk buyers remain the backbone of the business. The products themselves typically offer six hours cooling under the sun and up to 10 hours when used indoors. A thermal layer protects the skin and ensures the gel’s longevity in use. They can be put through 400 cycles for up to two years before they lose their cooling qualities. They even cool at ambient temperature.