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From Idea to Series B in 14 Months: R-Zero’s Journey to Date, and Becoming Biosafety Technology Pioneers

By Grant Morgan, CEO and Co-Founder

R-Zero is a company with an ambitious vision: to create a world without sick days. Today, while a global pandemic continues to claim lives and devastate economies, that vision seems particularly far fetched. But we see a hopeful future – one even better than what we knew before – and we will stop at nothing to turn that vision into a reality.  

To conquer the world’s greatest challenges, you need an army of the world’s most talented people,  all fighting relentlessly for the same cause. We’re continuing to build our army – of employees, investors, advisors, partners, humans – to fight a microscopic war in the name of improving the health, safety, and ultimately the quality of life for all.  

From the very beginning, we have been fortunate to have the backing and steadfast support from some of the world’s most accomplished investors, who believe in our vision, share our values, and go to war alongside us every day. Last week we announced the closing of R-Zero’s $41.5m Series B funding led by World Innovation Lab (WiL), and most importantly, the addition of a new fleet of world-class investors.  

  • Rob Theis, partner at WiL, has invested in over 25 companies, creating an aggregate capitalization of $42 Billion with 7 IPOs and 11 acquisitions (and counting); he brings decades of public company board service to the table.  
  • Steve Pretre, also partner at WiL, adds decades of operating experience as an executive, a successful founder, and an investor.  
  • Lastly, the iconic John Doerr, whose track record investing in category-defining tech titans speaks for itself.

These new investors join the ranks of those who have been with us from the beginning – Impact Investing pioneer Ira Ehrenpreis of DBL Partners, and Duncan Turner with SOSV/HAX.  These investors have been instrumental to our success to date, and we would not be where we are today without their steadfast support.

Collectively, these investors have identified and backed some of the most iconic, category-defining tech titans the world has ever seen – Google, Tesla, Amazon, SpaceX, HubSpot, RingCentral, Slack, Zynga and DoorDash, among countless others.  We are humbled and proud to have Rob, Steve, and John join the ranks with Ira, Duncan, and our other early backers. But this is just the beginning. And to know where we’re going, it’s important to know where we started. 

Pathogens Have Evolved. But the Tools to Fight Them Have Not

R-Zero was born out of the COVID-19 pandemic. In April of 2020, Ben, Eli, and I were witnessing the unprecedented loss of lives and economic devastation on a truly global scale. We felt compelled to do whatever we could to help. Along the way, we had a number of stark realizations, and what started as a COVID response turned into so much more…

As the world went into lockdown, hospitals went into overdrive, and entire economies shut down, we spent a lot of time thinking about how we had gotten to this point. How, in this day and age, had a microscopic pathogen been able to impact virtually every individual, community, and government across the globe? It was clear that we as a society were woefully unprepared for COVID.  We observed that even today in 2021, we are still using the same antiquated, harmful chemicals that we used to fight the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.  In the 100+ years since, we’ve sent humans to the moon and have witnessed the advent of antibiotics, the internet, and the electric car.  Yet somehow, the industry standard for disinfection is still using costly, labor-intensive chemical protocols that are harmful to human health and the environment and ultimately ineffective. COVID exposed the stark reality that we seek to change: pathogens have evolved, but the tools we use to fight them have not.

We knew we needed the best tools and technologies to fight this microscopic war, so we set out to innovate on a tried-and-true disinfection technology, UV-C, by combining its proven hospital-grade efficacy with IoT capabilities and modern software to deliver a powerful tool for any organization to fight COVID. From day 1, we’ve operated with the urgency that there were lives at stake – there literally were. We successfully brought our first product, Arc, to market in just 5 months. But along the way, we realized the problem is much, much bigger than COVID alone.  

Pioneering Innovation to Enable Healthier Humans, by Virtue of Safer Spaces

We as a society have done an objectively terrible job at keeping humans safe from pathogens. The evidence is undeniable: 

  • 40 million Americans get the flu every year – and somehow we’ve just accepted that’s normal.  
  • 21 million Americans contract norovirus every year, which wipes out entire classrooms, cruise ships, senior care facilities, and more. 
  • MRSA (staph) kills more Americans than AIDS, Parkinsons, emphasyma, and murder… combined.  

That’s not to mention E. coli, common cold, and the many other infectious diseases that are endemic to indoor environments. The human health consequences of these illnesses are dire, but so are the economic consequences. The CDC estimates that sick days cost the US economy $600 Billion in direct and indirect healthcare-related expenses and lost productivity. This problem is universal – no organization is immune to the human health and economic consequences of infectious disease. So we thought beyond COVID and focused on building a platform to help organizations of all shapes and sizes create and maintain safer, healthier indoor spaces and ultimately make sick days a thing of the past.

If we can solve this problem, we have the opportunity to effect lasting societal change and improve the quality of life for humans and organizations worldwide.

COVID was the catalyst, opening our eyes to how vulnerable we truly are to infectious disease and how urgent and apparent the need is for innovation in the disinfection space. We should expect better, and we must innovate and invest in technologies and solutions that prioritize human health.  

The good news? We can take what we’ve learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and emerge better, stronger, and healthier as a society. Today, R-Zero exists to lead this change.

The Future: Continuous, Automated Disinfection

We believe the future of disinfection is about measuring and managing disinfection with the same level of sophistication and technology that we’ve become accustomed to in virtually every other industry. What does that look like to R-Zero?  

  • More IoT-enabled hardware to collect data about how a space is being utilized, and automatically perform disinfection activities.  
  • More data science and advanced ML and AI to quantify risk in real-time, and derive actionable insights about how to manage and mitigate that risk.  
  • And modern software to feed those insights back to building operators, automate workflows, and provide visibility into what has historically been an invisible process.  

The culmination of this technological innovation results in the world’s first continuous, automated disinfection ecosystem that’s more efficient and effective than any solution that’s ever existed. That’s what we’re we’re building at R-Zero. We believe this intelligent disinfection ecosystem will accelerate a fundamental shift we’re already seeing with regard to how society understands and addresses human health risks. 

Our platform addresses the two biggest issues associated with disinfection today: chemicals, and manual labor. Chemicals are harmful to both people and the planet. The body of scientific evidence linking occupational exposure to chemicals to respiratory diseases is overwhelming, yet we still ask staff to suit up and spray down surfaces daily.  Then, we welcome our friends, family, colleagues and customers into these spaces, where they are exposed to air and surfaces doused with the same caustic chemicals that deteriorate the very pathogens that we are ostensibly trying to protect people from. Manual labor is powered by humans, and we, as humans, are imperfect by nature. Studies show that even in hospitals, with specially-trained staff, up to 53% of surfaces are missed by manual disinfection. Still, manual disinfection remains laborious and inefficient, with no way to effectively measure true efficacy. Cleaning crews perform the same routine regularly, and we measure efficacy by declaring the amount of time spent. And we track it all with a clipboard, pen, and paper. 

Now, forget what we know about how disinfection has been done to this point, and imagine a world in which the indoor environments (where we spend over 90% of our lives) actively and automatically work to keep us safe.  

Imagine walking into a conference room for a meeting, and within seconds, an air disinfection device [installed on the wall or ceiling] automatically powers on – cleaning the air as it flows throughout the room. When the meeting is over, that same device senses people have exited the room, and runs a quick [5-minute] surface disinfection cycle before powering down to conserve energy and extend its lifespan. Imagine the facilities operation staff coming in after-hours to clean and disinfect, and having a protocol that directs their focus at the company collaboration space, which was heavily occupied for an all company meeting that day. The same intelligence protocol tells them which areas were unoccupied since the last time they were cleaned and disinfected, freeing up the team’s time to focus on higher risk areas or other mission critical facilities work.  Imagine the peace of mind you’d feel, walking into an office restroom knowing it’s being automatically disinfected, in real-time. 

What’s perhaps most inspiring to me is that we know we can reduce sick days. Between September 2020 and the end of January 2021, the CDC reported a 99% reduction in the number of cases of influenza, and several other countries have reported similar reductions of the flu and various other infectious diseases. The preventative measures we’ve taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19 nearly eradicated the flu. This data inspires and guides us daily, as we continue to drive innovation that sets a new standard for human health and safety in a post-pandemic era and beyond. 

There are decades when nothing happens, and there are years when decades happen. COVID-19 has been the great accelerator of industry, putting us in the midst of such a moment right now. Years of innovation have been achieved in a matter of months – and R-Zero is proud to be at the forefront of this rapid development. In the 14 months since R-Zero’s inception, we have accomplished what many have told us was impossible. While we’re incredibly proud of our execution and accomplishments to date, our journey has merely just started, and the biggest challenges still lie ahead. We’ve only just scratched the surface of the incredible impact we can have on the public health of modern society. Motivated by our mission, we remain steadfast in our pursuit of a world without sick days, and we will not be stopped.  

Onwards…

Grant

**If you’re interested in joining us on our mission, as we work to solve one of society’s greatest challenges, we’re currently hiring across all departments. See all open positions and apply at rzero.com/careers.

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