Meet The Founders Of The $2.7 Million Startup Behind The New Covid Breathalyzer
When the first wave of states started to legalize medical and recreational marijuana in the 2010s, Tim Wing and John Redmond envisioned a cannabis breathalyzer that could analyze samples in minutes without sending them out to a lab, similar to the ones police use to check for drunk drivers. Bootstrapped by $2.7 million cobbled together from family, friends and a handful of angel investors, the pair had the vision but lacked the chemistry credentials. To fill that skill gap, they teamed up with Guido Verbeck, a chemistry professor at the University of North Texas, to develop what Wing calls a “chemistry lab in a box.”
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, CEO Wing, 49, and president Redmond, 51, cofounders of Frisco, Texas-based InspectIR, pivoted from cannabis to Covid. Two months later they started a clinical trial, and on Thursday, the hardware and software of that portable chemistry lab – the size of a 40-lb. carry-on suitcase – received the first FDA emergency-use authorization for a breathalyzer device to detect Covid-19.
The hours since the FDA’s authorization have been a whirlwind for the duo, who first met in 2008 when they were paired together at a Texas golf tournament, where the two Midwestern transplants immediately hit it off. Wing had spent the past two decades as a sales and marketing entrepreneur starting in the early days of the internet, while Redmond has worked in human capital consulting, mainly talent acquisition and diversity, in the technology space. After their first venture, an imaging company focused on touchless temperature measurement from a distance, didn’t pan out, they launched InspectIR in 2017. “We’ve been bootstrapping and fighting like hell,” Wing told Forbes.
Their device relies on an existing technology, the miniaturized mass spectrometer. When a person breathes out, they exhale a cocktail of organic compounds, including oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen.The spectrometer breaks apart the molecules of organic compounds and sorts them by size. “With viral infections, we know that the body creates chemistry, or off-gas, based on its response to fighting the virus inside our bodies at the cellular level,” Redmond says.
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