- The coronavirus crisis has prompted many companies and individuals to pivot their businesses or start new companies to help those in need.
- James Regenor, a retired Air Force colonel, started a new company to help hospitals facing equipment shortages, and landed a Department of Defense contract in 12 days.
- The company, Rapid Medical Parts, is working on a device that converts CPAP machines, typically used to treat sleep apnea, into ventilators for treating COVID-19 patients.
- The company's 15-person team is spread out across the US and has never met in person — they've built the entire company over Zoom.
- Rapid Medical Parts is still waiting for the Food and Drug Administration approval to produce its device, but once manufacturing begins, Regenor expects to produce 400 to 600 kits per day.
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Like many Americans, Jim Regenor decided to leave a major US city to wait out the coronavirus crisis somewhere less populated.
But unlike most people, Regenor decided to start up a brand-new business during the crisis to help hospitals facing equipment shortages — and he grew an idea into a 15-person business with a Department of Defense contract in 12 days.
Regenor, a former Air Force colonel, was in Boston when the virus hit, participating in Techstars' Air Force accelerator for a manufacturing-focused startup he launched last year. When Boston went into lockdown, Regenor headed back to his current hometown near Buffalo, New York. He decided to start a new company when he noticed that hospitals were maxing out their equipment during the outbreak.
Regenor's company, Rapid Medical Parts, created a device that converts CPAP machines, which are typically used to treat sleep apnea, into machines that can treat COVID-19 patients. The team has been building the device over Zoom, meeting twice a day, and chatting over Slack or by phone in the interim. Regenor described the team makeup as mostly "aerospace guys," as well as a ventilator expert and a doctor.
"We've done all this without ever meeting each other face-to-face, without ever having more than one person in any room at any time, spread out between Salt Lake City, Florida, Arizona, California, Washington state, Connecticut, and Buffalo," Regenor told Business Insider.
An emergency solution
Rapid Medical Parts' device — which the company is calling an "emergency ventilator solution," or EVS-4 — has about 95% of the functionality of a standard ventilator for "a fraction of the cost," Regenor told Business Insider.
It's different from other devices that convert CPAP machines, he said, because it's able to adjust the pressure provided by the device. That means the machine will work on mild COVID-19 cases as well as more severe cases where the patient needs to be intubated. In theory, EVS-4 would provide an alternative to standard ventilators, which can cost around $20,000.
"The idea is, where can you provide optionality for hospitals so they can use their high-end equipment on the most severe patients," Regenor said.
The company is still waiting on approval from the Food and Drug Administration before it can start producing the device, but Regenor expects that approval by the end of the month. Given that EVS-4 uses equipment that's already approved by the FDA, Regenor hopes the process will be quick.
Once Rapid Medical Parts gets up an running, Regenor said he expects to be able to make 400 to 600 kits a day, resulting in thousands per week. The plan is to manufacture the devices at several locations, but Regenor said the process is "supply-chain dependent," which has become strained during the lockdown. If parts become scarce, the company plans to convert to some 3D-printed parts instead, he said.
Starting a new business during a global crisis comes with other risks beyond supply-chain issues, however. While the company has already received funding from the DoD, the market for Rapid Medical Parts' device would theoretically shrink, or at least change significantly, once the pandemic passes. But Regenor said the company thinks its device will be useful in treating other respiratory illnesses, like the flu or pneumonia, particularly in parts of the world that can't afford traditional ventilators.
"The cool part is, it's actually really a whole new way to view invasive and noninvasive ventilation, so I think we will have legs beyond this crisis," Regenor said. The company expects that going forward, most of its customers will be governments, NGOs, and hospital systems.
In the meantime, however, Rapid Medical Parts is working around the clock to try to get its device ready to treat COVID patients.
"First week or so I couldn't sleep because I was so wrapped up in this, making sure it works and we get it done," Regenor said. "The days are a blur. There are no weekends. We wrap up late in the evening and start back up first thing in the morning."
Have you pivoted your business to help during the coronavirus outbreak? Or have you started a new company in response to the current crisis? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story.