Editor’s note: The following is part of Startland News’ ongoing coverage of the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Kansas City’s entrepreneur community, as well as how innovation is helping to drive a new normal in the ecosystem. Click here to follow related stories as they develop.
Kansas City companies are expected to play a role on a global stage for combating the COVID-19 pandemic through a national Tiger Team involving Cisco Systems and Think Big Partners, said Herb Sih.
“The government has asked for private sector involvement and that’s what really caused me to think, ‘We have to get involved.’ I think it’s really an opportunity for Kansas City to respond to that call for action,” said Sih, managing partner and co-founder at smart city development firm Think Big Partners.
Tasked with pinpointing emerging tech to use in the war effort against COVID-19, the Tiger Team — a group of smart city specialists tasked with combatting Coronavirus through innovation — located three specific technologies each with roots in the Kansas City metro area, he said.
The tech team includes: Drexel, Missouri-based InnovaPrep, supplying biosurveillance tech; a Dallas-based, but KC-born Machine Halo, bringing large scale sensor technology; as well as an undisclosed local chemical disinfectant company — among other medium-large companies both nationally and internationally, Sih said.
The companies together create a superpowered assembling of tech with the potential to flatten the Corona-curve in an important way, he added.
“We’ve been able to assemble all these different complementary technologies and they all work together — they just have never been used like this before,” he said. “This is real, and these technologies absolutely can work. I think Machine Halo and InnovaPrep are absolutely going to work.”
‘Glad to be ready to help’
Having the ability to provide rapid results in detecting the presence of the virus in private or public areas is massively instrumental in the current climate, said David Alburty, CEO of InnovaPrep.
But it might come as a surprise to regional outsiders that his Kansas City company is already poised to lead, he added.
“InnovaPrep provides tools for wide-area biosurveillance for COVID-19 virus. Detecting your enemy is key. The picture of infection in the indoor environment is based on surface and aerosol monitoring. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, so aerosol monitoring is important, in addition to surface sampling. The smart cities initiative helps tie the picture together via interactive public health internet connections for Kansas City and around the country.”
— David Alburty, CEO of InnovaPrep
“I think sometimes innovation comes out of the Heartland in ways that are unexpected on the coasts,” said Alburty. “For one thing, I’ve been spending the last 15 years developing equipment that’s perfectly workable for this problem and worrying about this problem has been something that has kept me up these past 15 years because I thought it was inevitable that a pandemic would hit of this magnitude.”
“It’s one of those things I never wanted to happen, but since it’s happened, I’m glad to be ready to help,” he added. “I think it’s just something that Kansas City and Midwestern companies have in mind — they’re just sometimes solidly working on the outcomes rather than jumping on maybe the latest app or something.”
InnovaPrep’s “Bobcat” device — a powerful, portable air sampler — is able to capture any virus in the air in a given space for identification, said Alburty.
“The sampler can be used to sample air in the COVID-19 organizations or maybe emergency hospitals and that’s really important in an environment like that — to keep the doctors and nurses safe, and also prevent the spread of the virus any further because it is spread by aerosol transmission,” he said.
“Just to be part of the Kansas City response [with the Tiger Team] is one thing, but I think if this could be used in Kansas City or developed here as part of the Smart Cities Initiative, it could be a contribution to the nationwide effort,” he added.
The firm is also developing surface samplers to detect any contamination not in the air, Alburty said.
“These sorts of environmental biosurveillance or physical biosurveillance are really important in controlling outbreaks, and we’d like to help with that if we can,” he said.
“Who’d have thought six months ago, you’d feel good about someone taking your temperature as you walk through an airport?” added Sih.
‘We’re not just doing this for a quick Band-Aid’
Technology’s heavy hand helps eliminate the chance of human error, or socioeconomic biases in health-concerning situations, Sih said, noting Machine Halo’s large scale optical sensors can take multiple readings at scale.
Machine Halo operates as a glue in the framework for smart city infrastructure and the collaboration of the different applications and startups, said Isaiah Blackburn, CEO of the startup.
“Even though [Machine Halo] is focused on computer vision and artificial intelligence and the ‘edge’ — to where you don’t have to go back to the cloud — we can also pull in viable data and run other types of sensor applications,” he said. “So being able to collect information from a completely separate type of sensor and even a different company and be able to identify the useful pieces and then being able to act on it is what is valuable.”
While hoisting up emergency structures for a growing public health issue is important, the sustainability aspect is even more crucial to ensure the global community continues to thrive throughout the resulting recovery and growth stages, he added.
“What we have to think about is that we’re not just doing this for a quick Band-Aid — it can be done in a way that helps address the immediate problem, but also when we’ve transitioned into recovery and then growth,” said Blackburn.
The Tiger Team has involved many other medium-to-large-scale businesses nationwide as well, Sih added, noting the collaborative effort and Kansas City representation is game-changing.
”Out of our little hometown, there’s some great stuff going on that may make a huge dent in this problem worldwide, so we’re very excited about it,” Sih said.