Kinnos, a New York-based startup, was founded six years ago, but what the five-person company produces is suddenly top of mind -- and a new round of funding reflects as much.
To wit, Kinnos, which makes additives that cause disinfectants to turn blue long enough to ensure a surface has actually been covered, just closed on $6 million in funding, a major chunk of which came from Prolog Ventures, though it was joined by Allston Venture Fund, Partnership Fund for New York City, Golden Seeds, MEDA Angels and numerous individual investors.
We talked this morning with co-founder and CEO Jason Kang, who started the company while still a biomedical engineering student at Columbia University. We wanted to understand the impact of the coronavirus on his business, possible competition from the likes of Clorox and whether Kinnos, which currently works mostly with hospital systems, is thinking about a consumer offering, too. Our chat has been edited lightly for length.
TC: Why start this company?
JK: My co-founders, Katherine and Kevin, and myself, were all undergrads at Columbia University in our junior year, and this was October 2014 during the height of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Columbia had this design challenge to help the healthcare workers there and they actually brought nurses and doctors in from the field. And one of the biggest problems they mentioned, over and over again, was that ineffective decontamination and human errors were literally killing them. That's really how we came up with idea of colorized disinfection.
The disinfectants that people are using -- bleach, alcohol -- are transparent. So when you apply them to the surface, it's actually quite difficult to make sure you've covered everything. A lot of the disinfectants also have a contact time, which is the time it needs to sit on the surface to inactivate the pathogens. If you touch a wet spot too early or you wipe it off too early, the pathogen can still be active, and that's how infections can also spread.
TC: How many products are you selling?
JK: Two. The first one is called Highlight powder; it's a patented color additive platform that's meant to be combined with existing disinfectants that hospitals and healthcare settings are already using, so we're not competing or replacing these disinfectants but rather combining our products with them so that they can be used more effectively. Highlight is a powder that you dissolve into bulk liquid solutions of bleach and is colorized blue, so when you apply it to a surface you [be sure you] don't miss a spot, and the color will actually then fade from blue to colorless after a few minutes.
It was really designed to target epidemic outbreaks, so we've sold to humanitarian organizations that have deployed the product in Liberia and Guinea, Haiti, DR Congo and Uganda, and we recently had a couple shipments go to China for the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
Our second product, Highlight wipes, is really designed more for hospitals here in the U.S., the reason being that a lot of hospitals tend to use wipes and not sprays. You don't see a lot of people hosing down patient rooms.
TC: Did you have have to go through myriad tests to ensure the product was safe in a healthcare setting?
JK: With any product being used in a medical or healthcare setting, you do a very rigorous battery of tests to make sure that you know it's safe and effective, especially when lives are on the line. So we did have to do a lot of third-party testing to make sure that adding our highlight additive to the disinfectants wouldn't reduce the potency of the disinfectant itself.
TC: How does the thoroughness of cleaning translate into savings for your customers?
JK: It's not a direct correlation [to dollars], but studies have shown that about 50% of surfaces and healthcare settings are missed or not cleaned properly, and that if you are able to improve thoroughness of cleaning and cleaning techniques, you can reduce infections by up to 80%. At hospitals right now, it's a $45 billion annual problem in terms of medical costs, reimbursement penalties and so on. So if you are able to effectively reduce 80% of infections, that's on the scale of billions of dollars saved.
TC: It's a huge market. Are you thinking about creating a consumer-facing product, as well?
JK: Definitely. We're starting with hospitals right now because this is a big problem that happens every day. Around one out of every 25 people who stay in a hospital will actually get an infection from the hospital -- which is pretty ironic considering that, you know, you go to hospital to get care and treatment, not to become more sick. Once we have established a foothold in the hospital market, the next most obvious use case would be consumer. Especially with the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, prevention and effective hygiene is kind of top of mind for everyone.
TC: This seems like a no-brainer, your product. Why aren't companies like Clorox selling the same thing?
JK: I think that it's definitely been on their radar. The challenge is that it's very difficult to get a color to last in a container of disinfectant at the point of manufacture and to get it to fade on the surface at point of use, especially within a certain amount of time.
The way that we got around that is by creating a point-of-use additive, so, for example for our wipes device, only as the wipe goes through our lid, right before you use it, does it get impregnated with the chemistry. That way we have much more control over how the color is dispensed, the intensity of the color and the color fading time.
TC: What about with the other product, into which the additive is added directly?
JK: We're very proud to say that when you add our powder to a bucket of bleach, for example, it'll last in the bucket for five hours. And then when used on a surface, it'll fade in about three minutes. Getting that separation of time was actually really, really hard.