In early 2020, Tarun Nimmagadda began monitoring a virus that was causing economic and human destruction in India, where his parents live, and Singapore, where his sister lives. He knew it was only a matter of time before the U.S. was met with the same fate. And, he realized that the country wouldn’t be prepared.
In February, Nimmagadda founded CoronaTrace, a citizen-led nonprofit meant to help stop the spread of this novel virus called COVID-19. The real-time, location-based app sends users alerts about potential contact they might have add with other CoronaTrace users who tested positive for coronavirus.
But as the pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home-order continued to rage on, Nimmagadda knew he needed to do something more.
That’s when ReturnSafe was born, a spin-off from CoronaTrace that helps businesses screen, test, and trace for COVID to both identify potential positive cases and keep the rate of infection down. The Texas-based BioSecurity company can help educational institutions, nonprofits, long term care and nursing home facilities, sport event venues, and more—the overall goal is to keep communities safe and maintain business continuity.
“The market opportunity for our business is in managing the risk and liability associated with infectious diseases and ensuring employees are staying safe and not getting sick,” Nimmagadda, who is founder and CEO, told Dallas Innovates. “Historically, a vaccine has not been the solution to stopping a pandemic. What has slowed and in many cases ended an outbreak like SARS, MERS, avian and swine flu, is a combination of screen, test and trace.”
How it works
ReturnSafe’s holistic platform features an end-to-end solution that incorporates daily screening, a symptoms diary, recommendations governed by HR policies, testing data management, Bluetooth contact-tracing via smartphone, and workplace wearables like a social distancing alarm.
Nimmagadda says the best breed of technologies available today (and the future) are used, from thermo temperature readings to case management tools that track the positives from identification to isolation and guide a return to work plan.
“The entire company is 100 percent focused on our mission to prevent infectious disease outbreaks,” Nimmagadda says. “This is a new type of problem and a new type of problem requires a new company, not just a re-skinning of existing tools. ”
Don’t get the tech confused with a ‘screening app,’ its founders say: ReturnSafe aims to provide integrated workflows and industry-specific solutions that can bring data together to enable a safe environment.
The team likes to think it’s more than an app, as it enables what they say is the fastest response times to an outbreak in an organization.
“ReturnSafe is a purpose built BioSecurity platform—we aren’t COVID washing and taking an existing product and adding a COVID-lite screening process, which is what a lot of companies are doing,” Nimmagadda says. “We are a fully integrated platform that allows HR administrators or those responsible for the health and safety of employees at an organization to have access and information in the event that an employee tests positive for COVID.”
To the team, a “secure, compliant infrastructure that checks all the boxes for enterprise IT” is essential—but they ultimately want to make staff and students feel safe above all else.
Starting from a nonprofit has driven a mission-centric mindset. That’s why the company offers an 80 percent discount to schools, nursing homes, and nonprofits.
“I am very proud of the way we are balancing the need to do the right thing,” Nimmagadda says. “We are working hard to innovate and serve communities that need help—education, long term care—with the business side which is to build and grow a profitable business so that we can expand the number of communities we serve.”
ReturnSafe experiences fast growth
And with COVID-19 dominating the majority of the year, the workplace safety-focused company has quickly proved its value.
According to Nimmagadda, since founding in May, ReturnSafe has experienced triple digit growth and gained more than 30 customers that have used the platform to reopen. That includes the San Antonio Spurs.
Last month, ReturnSafe announced that it was partnering with Spurs Sports & Entertainment to safely assist employees in returning to the corporate offices at AT&T Center. The Spurs has already begun rolling out the BioSecurity platform to corporate staff, and plans to introduce event health screening and contact tracing with event staff by the end of 2020.
The company has also expanded to a team of 25, with expectations to double its headcount over the next year.
ReturnSafe’s founders—Nimmagadda, Jikku Venkat (chief technology and head of product), Dr. Reef Gillum (chief medical officer), and Jason Story (vice president of business development and sales)—say they have a strong outlook for the rest of this year, and beyond.
Story and Gillum are currently operating out of Dallas while Nimmagadda and Venkat are based in Austin. Though they are currently operating with a distributed workforce, with employees in Boston, New Jersey, and San Francisco, the team has strong support to continue its trajectory.
ReturnSafe is backed by Active Capital, a venture firm founded to lead seed rounds for B2B SaaS companies outside of Silicon Valley. One of Active Capital’s biggest LPs is Graham Weston of Rackspace.
“Complementary to our mission at ReturnSafe, Graham has set up the largest COVID testing facility in Texas to provide repeatable, low-cost testing and is part of the Texas COVID taskforce,” Nimmagadda says. “Partnering with investors that share the same mission—to stop the spread of COVID and other infectious diseases—further exemplifies our holistic approach as a company.”
While COVID is ReturnSafe’s current focus, the tech could more broadly solve for diseases like the flu and other chronic conditions in the future. Nimmagadda wants to fill a gap that he says has been left by public health organizations.
“Even with the introduction of stringent economic measures and the potential availability of a vaccine, COVID is here to stay in some capacity and for some time,” Nimmagadda says. “While we are expecting an approval of a vaccine despite an effectiveness of 50 percent, we are still looking at a situation where there continues to be a growing number of cases and evidence that antibodies are declining within weeks and months of an infection, and reinfection.
“When you put all of this together, our holistic approach that does not rely on a vaccine underscores the importance for businesses to protect their communities.”