Welcome to Startup of the Week. A column highlighting B.C.’s most innovative and exciting tech startups. Today, we’re featuring Vancouver’s UVX.
The negative socio-economic effects of pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2, H1N1, E-Coli, Salmonella, and more are undeniable. Yet traditional chemical disinfectants and UV solutions fail to effectively and efficiently mitigate these issues. Recognizing the shortcomings of traditional methods, UVX makes disinfection effortless, affordable, effective, sustainable, and safe for everyone.
In this feature, UVX Co-Founder & CEO, Kunal Sethi, talks local support systems, maintaining the course, and the power of “just doing it”.
Q: Pretend I’m your Grandma, explain what your company does.
A: UVX is developing an intelligent ceiling device that optimizes cleaning by using occupancy data. It automatically disinfects air and surfaces using human-safe ultra-violet light , thereby providing continuous disinfection when humans are present without impacting operations.
Our technology uses Far-UVC light, which unlike conventional UV light, is safe for human exposure. This is because Far-UVC light is absorbed by the dead layer of the skin and the tear film of the eye before it can penetrate deep enough to reach living cells. As pathogens are much smaller in size, the light can penetrate their cell nuclei and that retains the light’s antimicrobial properties. It’s very much a “sweet spot” in the light spectrum. Our lamps have been tested on humans to validate short-term and long-term safety, as well as on various pathogens to validate efficacy.
Q: Why did you start this company?
A: UVX was born out of fear and frustration in the midst of the pandemic.
On June 25, 2020, we came across a CBC news article with a staggering statistic: 81% of all reported COVID-19 deaths in Canada have been in long-term care homes. We knew that this couldn’t be simply because the elderly are more vulnerable and the pathogen that causes COVID-19 is more infectious. With our own parents getting old and potentially requiring special long-term care due to chronic health issues, the idea of sending them to a care home in the future was beyond frightening.
Curious engineers that we are, one thing led to another. Determined to understand the problem, we went from casually chatting with friends in healthcare, to reading academic publications on potential solutions. That’s when we came across breakthrough research on a form of UV light that is safe for humans but lethal for pathogens. We then cold emailed the scientists because their findings sounded like “magic”, and before we knew it, we had laid the foundation for UVX.
Q: Explain the main problem your company solves.
A: Disinfection (killing of pathogens) and cleaning (physical removal of dust, residue, etc.) are so coupled together that they currently happen simultaneously, despite being entirely different operations.
UVX has built the only technology in the world that completely de-couples disinfection from cleaning using hardware-plus-software. Our hardware provides automated disinfection, whereas our software provides optimized cleaning schedules.
Q: What has been most helpful in building your business?
A: Beyond doubt the resources of University of British Columbia (UBC), our alma mater. Not only did UBC’s entrepreneurship@UBC program provide access to invaluable mentorship, but we also managed to partner with UBC’s Faculty of Medicine (Division of Infectious Diseases) for further testing and validation of our technology. We are very privileged to be affiliated with such a well regarded institution that continues to invest in its students, faculty, and alumni.
We are also grateful to programs like MEDTEQ and the National Research Council of Canada who have supported us through their advisory services and given us access to special projects targeted at post-pandemic solutions.
Building a startup is never easy, but having support programs like these definitely helps!
Q: What’s your advice for dealing with doubters and skeptics?
A: Listen to them, but don’t entertain them. Skeptics have really helped us refine our messaging by addressing obvious concerns head on. However, we like to leave it at that.
Every disruptive technology goes through speculation. Remember when it was weird to sleep in a stranger’s home? Entrepreneurs have a choice: be encouraged by early adopters who love your product, or be discouraged by energy-draining skeptics. We focus on the former.
Q: What quality do you think is most important for a start up?
A: The “just do it!” mindset. It’s very easy to get caught up in analysis-paralysis, especially on trivial matters. We often ask ourselves, “what’s the worst that could happen?” If the worst possible outcome is not so bad, just do it! You never know what doors that one application or cold email could open.
Q: What living person do you most admire and why?
A: Elon Musk. While controversial to some degree, I continue to be awed and inspired by his zeal and dedication. He’s able to speak intelligently about a plethora of topics and successfully lead the implementation of some of the world’s most innovative technologies, all while also clearly having fun.
Want to be featured as a Startup of the Week? If you are, or would like to suggest, a BC-based tech startup that we should know about, reach out.