From giving back to the community and supporting frontline health care workers to coming up with novel medical solutions and more, Chicago-based companies have not stepped down in the fight against COVID-19. Rather they are using it as an opportunity to innovate, collaborate, and evolve. Now in my third article of this series, find the latest updates below from the Windy City’s frontline of innovation.
ARCH Venture Partners: Chicago-based firm Arch Ventures recently raised $1.46 billion in funding to invest in early-stage biotech companies. The firm already backs a handful of companies working on COVID-19 therapeutics, including Twist Bioscience, a developer of gene engineering tools used in COVID therapeutics and vaccine development.
Catalytic: Automation technology provider Catalytic is helping companies assess risk and develop emergency response plans to the virus. Companies that have successfully used the technology include Grant Thornton, which quickly built a Pandemic Risk Assessment tool to help businesses get an instant, quantitative assessment of pandemic risks with tailored resiliency plans; and, Reveleer, a healthcare software company, which used Catalytic to build an automation that collects responses and generates a daily report of employee health and productivity. Catalytic is now offering free, unlimited access to its Business Continuity Plan which can be tailored to an organization’s needs for immediate use.
Chicago Beyond: Impact investor Chicago Beyond just announced its initiative Going Beyond, a joint effort with philanthropists Kimbra and Mark Walter to support communities in Chicago. The Going Beyond initiative will deliver basic necessities to people on Chicago’s South and West Sides who have less access to self-care items and healthy foods. With support from the Walter Family, Chicago Beyond will be deploying $250,000 worth of goods to an estimated 5,000 families a week at least until May 1.
MATTER: As a connecting agent of health systems to innovative solutions, MATTER has been hosting virtual roundtables with innovation leaders from health care systems around the country including New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Ohio, Tampa Bay, and Chicago, allowing them to share what they’re learning and doing to help their communities address COVID-19. These conversations have unearthed great examples of health systems working with startups to solve current challenges, some of which include:
- AgileMD: AgileMD worked with the University of Chicago Medicine to develop and embed COVID-19 clinical pathways into their electronic health records so the system, doctors, nurses, and staff know the right workflow for different situations. The company has worked with leading medical centers to automate screening and management pathways for COVID-19 cases, and can rapidly update them with the latest clinical evidence and guidelines from the CDC. AgileMD is offering their solution at no charge to any hospital that wants it.
- Clearstep: Clearstep delivers actionable next steps for care when patients need it most. They’ve developed a COVID-19 screener built off of gold standard guidelines to determine COVID-19 risk, whether an individual needs testing and if their symptoms require in-person care or care via telemedicine.
- NowPow: NowPow is making it possible for care providers, rapid responders, and volunteers to refer people to vital emergency resources that are validated with updated service availability. They are also offering a free tool to community-based organizations that allows them to text or email referrals for services they may not be able to provide.
- Orbita: Orbita creates secure, enterprise-grade voice and chatbot-powered virtual assistants. To assist healthcare organizations in their response to COVID-19, Orbita built a COVID-19 screening chatbot that can be readily integrated into existing websites to improve access to coronavirus-specific question-answering and screening tools.
- PhysIQ: PhysIQ’s proprietary personalized analytics system, pinpointIQ, has been sanctioned for COVID-19 care by the FDA to ease the burden on hospitals and provide continuous physiologic remote monitoring to homebound or quarantined patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19—or those who might require continuous monitoring due to high-risk profiles like heart failure, COPD or hypertension.
- StoCastic: StoCastic has partnered with OSF HealthCare to launch their E-Triage AI tool to identify patients that are at high risk for hospitalization due to COVID-19. StoCastic’s E-Triage tool enables nurses to triage patients over the phone rather than in hospitals and mobilize pandemic health care workers to test patients in their homes and send samples to labs.
- Third Eye Health: Third Eye Health has activated its Rapid Deployment Protocol™ to extend its telehealth platform and physician services to hundreds of health systems, physician groups, and operators nationwide. Along with their platform, Third Eye Health provides a dedicated professional services team that can establish connections between providers, SNFs, and health systems, and assist with virtual training, workflow design, provider-nurse engagement, and utilization management.
mHUB: Innovation center mHUB has a group of entrepreneurs and engineers collaborating to produce PPE for frontline health care workers. The group, led by mHUB CEO and co-founder Haven Allen, created a face shield prototype for Northwestern Memorial that is now being produced at a rate of about 1,500/day with the potential to scale up to 100,000 each week. Additionally, they created an open-source face shield design for use by anyone.
mHUB Rapid Response Group: With the support of mHUB, a group of entrepreneurs, engineers, and product designers have formed the Medical Protective Equipment Rapid Response Group, a team working hand-in-hand with clinicians and manufacturers to develop life-saving technology quickly. Innovations include:
- Injector Ventilator Solution: Leverages readily available automotive parts in a low-cost and scalable ventilator design. Design is in its final prototyping phase and will be nearly 200 percent lower in cost when compared to traditional ventilator models; this has been made a reality thanks to Will Patton, CTO Developer, Motion Dynamics, and Jose Cardona, Founder, Mechanical Design Labs.
- Intubation Shield/Protective Dome: This low-cost, reusable PPE device covers a patient’s head during intubation without limiting range of motion or visibility for the clinician while shielding from aerosolized fluids due to coughing; Mitch Muller, Founder, SquareOne Product Development.
- N95 Mask: A reusable mask with a disposable filter that uses silicon, a more durable material than traditionally used elastic to avoid disrupting the current supply chain for N95 masks; Luke Gray, Co-Founder, KOA.
- Powered Air-Purifying Respirator (PAPR) Device: This solution uses a diving mask, custom 3D-printed adapters, standard hoses, and a battery-powered filter box from off-the-shelf components to safeguard workers against contaminated air; Roger Ady, CTO and Co-Founder, Jiobit.
- UVC Sanitizing Bulb: This enclosure houses a powerful UVC light with a wavelength known to kill the COVID-19 virus and also filters out harmful UVA and UVB so that it can be safely used in populated rooms; Mike Rafferty, Founder, Rafferty Engineering, and Bill Fienup, Co-Founder and Director of Innovation Services, mHUB.
P33: Tech ecosystem nonprofit P33 is fast tracking its “Company Connect” initiative, which provides a means of driving greater connectivity between Chicago’s growth stage startups and corporations with the goal of creating commercial value for both parties. The match-making premise behind this initiative could potentially hold the key to reopening Chicago’s local economy once the COVID crisis settles as it unites critical players around shared problems to stimulate business and better position them for a comeback.
Percent Pledge: Chicago-based startup Percent Pledge creates customized giving programs for companies to improve employee engagement and employer brand. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, they launched a new Relief Portfolio that enables employees at partner companies to maximize their impact by donating to the vetted “charity mutual-fund.” Current clients range from one of the Big Four accounting firms to Chicago’s own Yello. Percent Pledge has also offered its proprietary giving platform and impact-reporting free for three months to new partner companies.
Tea Squares: Healthy energy bar company Tea Squares has organized a Stay Home, Stay Healthy snack box to help support healthcare workers on the frontlines. Partnering with nine other health-focused companies including Chicago-based Nemi Holistics, Prevail Jerky, Get Wild Snacks, Nature’s Nosh, Tomer Kosher Jerky, and Rumi Spice, 100 percent of profits from the snack boxes will be donated to Northwest Community Hospital’s Employee Emergency Relief Fund.
1871: Innovation hub 1871 has been working with Chicago startups that have launched new initiatives in the past month, or have pivoted their businesses and products, to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to Rheaply (mentioned previously), companies include:
- Megalytics: Leading provider of data analytics for the commercial real estate industry, Megalytics draws on hundreds of data sources in real-time. The company can geofence an infected site and track from the date of infection many of the people that were in the same building, where those people live and work, and where they might have gone before and after leaving the building.
- OEM Insights: OEM Insights created an end-to-end COVID-19 clinical management tool that allows large employers to screen 100 percent of their workforce daily, as well as triage, monitor, and test infected employees to keep them out of the workplace until infection has cleared.
- Rapid Rona: Rapid Rona is standing up an excess capacity economy for COVID-capable laboratories and outpatients who need testing while pursuing an EUA for an at-home sample collection kit. The venture is currently seeking employer-partners for a Chicagoland pilot in May, during which easy-to-use, at-home collection kits and reporting services will be offered at a deep discount to help guide return-to-work policies.
If you’re a Chicago company looking for additional resources amidst the pandemic, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has compiled a COVID-19 resources document for businesses, and my firm, HPA, has also created a comprehensive guide.