Windsor Essex Businesses Offer Healthcare Products And Services To Help Fight COVID-19 And More
Government restrictions, which have decimated a large part of the local small business economy in such sectors as tourism, food/beverage, event planning, personal care services, fashion and more, have nevertheless created opportunities for many other businesses.
Across Windsor Essex, they include companies that provide water testing kits, trained workers for under-staffed health organizations and in-home care for those affected by lockdown restrictions.
Others are stepping into the breach and developing apps for contact tracing, contactless temperature scanning, people counters to measure business capacities, rapid COVID-19 testing processes and more.
On the retail side, an ever-increasing demand for masks at a time when they are mandatory before entering a place of business, has been met by small businesses who are otherwise struggling to make ends meet while big box stores remain open.
As we close in on 12 months since the beginning of the devastating pandemic, Biz X magazine has talked to owners of area companies in the healthcare industry that have found creative and efficient ways of providing goods, high-tech healthcare products and services to clients and customers across the region and beyond.
Red Piston Inc.
Launched in 2009, Red Piston, as of mid-January 2021, is now busy working on a contact tracing app dubbed IDquickly.com. The app will make it easier for small businesses and restaurants across Ontario to provide reliable and secure traceability for health units, simply by scanning a QR code.
“They say that necessity is the mother of invention and this is a perfect example,” states Ali Al-Aasm, one of three company founders along with Jakub Koter and Andy Kale.
“We have relatives in the food and beverage industry and we were asked what we could do to make tracing and check-in easier and more efficient,” explains Al-Aasm. “We have a team of people capable of providing such a product and it’s our way of giving back to the community because so many small businesses are struggling.”
The Windsor company is working in partnership with the Digital Main Street Lab program, which is supported by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), WEtech Alliance, the Government of Ontario and Communitech, a tech incubator in Waterloo.
“This support, both financial and through community partnerships, gives us the ability to offer this valuable and timely tool, free to a wider range of businesses,” adds Al-Aasm.
Instead of requiring customers to answer questions upon arrival on a contact tracing sheet or memorize a long URL listing in order to complete online self-screening, patrons can simply scan a QR code on their mobile device and be directed to the website: IDquickly.com.
“It will help businesses reduce labour costs dedicated to mitigating the spread of COVID-19 quickly and efficiently, while still prioritizing safety, adherence to public health guidelines and customer experiences,” comments Al-Aasm.
Red Piston was chosen from a number of applicants across Ontario to participate in the pilot program.
Al-Aasm says that when COVID-19 restrictions end and contact tracing is no longer needed, Red Piston will add a suite of marketing and sales tools to its app, which will then be offered for a nominal cost.
Red Piston specializes in building innovative mobile apps and games for IOS and Android devices.
The company is located at 568 Chatham Street East (upper unit) in Windsor.
At Isolab Inc., technology-based products not only help keep customers and staff safe from infection, but also free up employees who would normally be tied up counting and testing customers before entering a place of business.
“When staff members use a hand-held temperature scanner, they have to be within six feet of their subject and that exposes them to possible infection, but with our contactless scanner they remain safe,” notes Dr. Tanha Jansrai-Batt, Isolab’s Chief Operating Officer and Quality Control Manager.
The contactless scanner takes the temperature of anyone entering the premises and displays that temperature on a monitor screen. If the temperature is higher than a pre-set limit, the screen flashes red and a beep sounds for five seconds.
If the temperature is below the limit, the screen flashes green and the beep sounds again, but this time the individual is allowed to enter.
“Our system records day, time and temperature and the data can be downloaded and kept within the system for future reference,” adds Jansrai-Batt.
The company, owned by Pradip and Bhavna Jansrai since they acquired it in 1995, has also developed a people counter, which counts customers entering or leaving a business and displays either “safe to enter” or “not safe to enter, maximum occupancy reached” on a monitor.
“It’s just a tiny box similar to a remote control, which is placed at the doorway to the business and it records people entering and leaving,” explains Jansrai-Batt. “It can be set to a pre-determined capacity limit and provides real-time information.”
Prior to pivoting and developing COVID-19-related products, Isolab offered calibration services and temperature sensors for industrial and commercial sectors.
“We’re in a number of Windsor and Essex County businesses already and we anticipate further growth,’ says Jansrai-Batt.
Isolab is located at 6260 Hawthorne Drive.
Advanced Hi-Tech Centre Ltd.
An uncomfortable experience with water quality in his hotel room, during a tropical vacation a few years ago, led Mason Akhshik to return home and develop a series of products that provide fast and reliable DIY water-testing kits for travellers, home owners and campers.
Despite being reassured by hotel staff that he would be fine, Akhshik ended up in hospital twice during that vacation and resolved to do something about the problem.
Akhshik, his wife Sanza Akhshik and business partner Benez Ashtari developed a portable water-testing kit and launched it under the trademark name of Sip Safer, which is part of their company, Advanced Hi-Tech Centre Ltd.
“The kit tests for bacteria in the water and also for a variety of other particles, which can be present in regular tap water,” explains Mason, the company’s Chief Executive Officer.
It was designed for people who travel on a regular basis, but when COVID-19 restrictions basically shut down all international travel, the partners had to quickly pivot and change their business plan.
“Our kits can be used just as easily at home and at campsites,” Mason indicates. “And that’s where our testing focus lies until people are comfortable travelling again.”
The company also offers filters for shower and campsite faucets, water purification products, brackets that fit inside face masks to make it easier to breathe, silicone straps for masks, disinfectant cleaning solutions and personal portable air purifiers.
“Business has been slow because of the travel issue, but it’s been difficult for everyone and we are no different,” says Mason. “It’s important to be ready with an alternative business plan until some semblance of normalcy returns.”
Sip Safer is located inside the EPICentre, 2455 Wyandotte Street West in Windsor.
With an eye towards keeping workplaces safe for employees and customers, GaiaDigits has launched a first-generation screening tool to help employees and employers keep track of potential COVID-19 infection symptoms.
Companies using the service, which has been offered free since it was made available in December 2020, require employees to access an online questionnaire on a daily basis and answer a series of questions designed to identify potential virus symptoms.
Once it’s completed and submitted to their employer, the employee is then free to attend work.
“Screening is essential if you want to know your employee’s status before they come to work,” says Ye Cheng, GaiaDigits’ Founder and Chief Executive Officer. “We realize that everyone wants workplaces to be safe environments and by answering a few brief questions relating to possible symptoms, we can all do our part to reduce the spread of the virus.”
Cheng points out that because many workplaces have different work sites and multiple employee layers, the completed questionnaires are only made available to those who have direct contact with the employee.
“We need to ensure privacy while at the same time making sure the workplace remains safe for everyone,” explains Cheng.
Questionnaires are available at certain times of the day to take into account different starting times for employees in retail, hospitality, public, private, commercial, and industrial sectors.
Cheng says that most of GaiaDigits’ clients are in the private sector, but he believes it’s even more important in public sector workplaces where, for the moment at least, employees are still working away from home.
“One person with symptoms can jeopardize an entire business or workplace,” says Cheng.
Cheng adds that they will soon be offering a vaccination reporting service so that employers can keep track of which employees have been vaccinated, which ones are waiting for their second shot if needed and which have not yet been vaccinated.
“It’s important that we keep workplaces safe for everyone,” asserts Cheng.
GaiaDigits is also located inside the EPICentre, 2455 Wyandotte Street West in Windsor.
Audacia Bioscience, a local biomedical research and production company, is working on a number of COVID-19 testing solutions, including clinical trials and workplace assurance testing.
“For the past year, we have been researching and implementing cutting-edge testing solutions for COVID-19,” says the company’s Chief Executive Officer Dr. Phillip Olla. “Our solutions are being deployed in hospitals and facilities in both Windsor and Detroit, including a highly-anticipated border crossing pilot program in conjunction with the Institute for Border Logistics and Security.”
The border-crossing technology facilitates the storage and easy access to an individual’s complete immunization and testing history. A certificate issued to each border commuter provides a secure mechanism for Canadian and U.S. travellers to share their test results.
“Our pilot study will use multiple tests — a nasal swab test as well as a rapid antigen test,” explains Olla. “This will allow us to safely and clinically reduce the length of quarantine times for essential business travellers within the manufacturing sector while still protecting the community.”
Audacia Bioscience has also launched a rapid antigen test kit, which will produce results within 10 to 15 minutes at a relatively low cost compared to standard testing, which can take two or three days to yield results.
“We’ve been approved to perform this type of testing at Windsor Regional Hospital and we’re waiting on approval from other health centres and hospitals,” Olla mentions.
Antigen tests provide results without any additional reagents or processing equipment and can be conducted entirely where the test is administered.
The company’s third piece of the COVID-19 puzzle is a vaccination test to check whether or not the vaccine is actually working.
“It can assess how long you remain immune to the virus and if you lose the antibodies that can make you vulnerable to the virus again,” states Olla. “We just need large numbers of people to be vaccinated after which our simple blood test can produce results within 15 to 30 minutes.”
Eventually, according to Olla, people who have been vaccinated will be able to conduct the test themselves in order to check their immunity status.
Audacia Bioscience, which was established in 2016, is located at 880 North Service Road, Suite 105, in Windsor.