The story of the founding of EviroTECH is one of serendipity, innovation, and collaboration. A compelling purpose—the global health emergency created by the rise and resulting spread of the SARS-Co-V-2 virus (COVID-19) and the subsequent inspiration of our founder Dr. Gerardine “Gerri” Botte to do what she does best: applying her substantial knowledge and research in electrochemistry and biomedical engineering to the global need for accurate, efficient, affordable, and ultra-fast virus-detection tools.
In March 2020, the world shut down. Texas Tech University (TTU), where Dr. Botte is a professor and the Whitacre Department Chair in Chemical Engineering, closed after spring break. At the time, Dr. Botte and her research team were developing a sensor that could detect E. coli in water.
She thought the technology might apply to detecting COVID-19. Electrochemistry is Dr. Botte’s core technical competency, so her approach integrated electrochemical technology and biomedical engineering. Working with colleagues at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center who provided access to the appropriate biomedical laboratory space and equipment, Dr. Botte and her team began their investigation.
The team chose to start with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) because of its similarity to COVID-19 proteins. In about six weeks, they knew they were onto something; their sensor technology was consistently and accurately detecting HIV proteins in samples. In early May 2020, they gained access to COVID-19 proteins for their research. The sensor, operated by remote control, could rapidly detect the presence of COVID-19 in saliva samples. Dr. Botte knew they were on the cusp of inventing a rapid and reliable point-of-care diagnostic device to combat viruses.
Working with the Office of Research Commercialization (ORC) at TTU, Dr. Botte applied for a patent on the technology and began to plan to spin off a company to manage commercial development, production, and marketing. The patent was filed in July 2020.
That’s when Dr. Botte reached out to former mentor and colleague Robert “Rocky” Mansfield for assistance with the start-up. They quickly connected with the TTU Innovation Hub, where they could benefit from the innovation ecosystem that nurtures start-ups like EviroTECH.
Kimberly Gramm, Associate Vice President, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, explained how the Innovation Hub helped EviroTECH succeed:
The selection of EviroTECH as a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) subcontractor further demonstrated the potential of the EviroTECH patented technology. Dr. Botte used the contract to investigate how to sample for COVID-19 in room air and built a prototype to test and submit to DARPA for evaluation. This is a fast-track Phase I and Phase II project. EviroTECH contracted to consult in the Phase I development and build the prototypes in Phase II.
Mansfield assumed the role of our Chief Operating Officer of EviroTECH in September 2020.
He points to the unqualified support the company has received, both from TTU and from external organizations, as critical to our success. Both he and Dr. Botte, with substantial previous start-up experience, were confident about the business plan and were committed to “doing the right things right” with EviroTECH. Their partnership with the university has been a textbook example of the value of private-public collaborations to drive scientific innovation.
Thanks to that collaboration, EviroTECH has:
A capital investment of $4 million, announced in May 2021, allowed EviroTECH to complete the final design and production startup and plan to market Ultra-Fast COVID-19 detection sensor, a rapid and portable tool for COVID-19 diagnosis. Production prototypes will be delivered soon and the sensor will be in full production by October 2021.
We are awaiting FDA UA approval and expect that approval in September 2021. We have recently hired our first employee, Shannon Litwin. Shannon comes to us from the aerospace industry and will serve as R&D Engineer for EviroTECH.
From March 2020 to today—18 months from concept to company. Ultra-Fast is not just the product name, it’s an apt description of the process we have followed in pursuit of our objective: the development of transformational technologies to combat infections and viral transmitted diseases.