In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world in fear, Kenneth Wright, CEO and founder of Novacc in Silver Creek, Georgia, thought to himself, ”What if we could take a proactive approach and stop viruses before they make people sick, rather than focusing on reactive treatments and vaccines that take months or years to develop?” He had many friends and family members who were healthcare workers and first responders who, because of their jobs, could not follow social distancing guidelines. They relied on N-95 masks that could be uncomfortable, inconsistent, and at times in short supply.
He began researching the best ways to kill viruses and came up with an idea for a specialized personal protective equipment (PPE) device that would use heat to kill the virus, rather than just attempt to prevent it from entering the body. His original design was a plastic box that had to be plugged in to be effective, which made it difficult for someone to wear while completing daily activities. He knew he needed a better solution to make his invention something feasible for front-line workers to use daily.
Wright had worked with the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) at Georgia Tech previously, in his role as a plant manager at a metal stamping company. He reached out to John Zegers, Northwest Georgia Region Manager, to see if GaMEP provided any services that could help him bring his idea to life. Zegers connected him to GaMEP’s medical device services project manager, Dean Hettenbach.
Through the Center for MedTech Excellence, Wright worked with Hettenbach and the Global Center for Medical Innovation (GCMI), a Georgia Tech affiliate, to continue his work to prove the feasibility of the product and complete market research. He then connected with a team of Georgia Tech biomedical, computer, and mechanical engineering students, through the Georgia Tech Capstone program, to continue to refine his design.
Wright said, “Reaching out to John was the best thing I could have done; he connected me to so many parts of Georgia Tech that as an individual, I never would have known about. Working with GaMEP and GCMI, who understand the industry and the resources available has made it possible for me to make it this far in my journey.”
The goals he gave to the Capstone team were to make it more wearable and portable while keeping it inexpensive to produce. He also wanted the team to avoid any designs that required maintenance tasks or costs that would make the device cumbersome or difficult to maintain.
The team produced a more functional and economically friendly design that runs on a 56 Volt battery and can kill viruses for up to 8 hours at a time. (Click here to view the Capstone design presentation.)
The design is still being tested for FDA approval and mass-scale production, but if approved Wright’s invention could destroy many other viruses, not just COVID-19. It could prevent SARS, MIRS, H1N1, or even Influenza outbreaks. His device would allow the world to be better prepared when the next virus surfaces and threatens a nationwide or worldwide pandemic. Because he believes in the power of preventing illness before it starts, he’s now working with the state of Georgia’s startup technology incubator, the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) at Georgia Tech, to develop a business plan and connect with investors to help him start and scale a company to produce the product, something he never expected to do in his retirement years.
Wright said, “Vaccines are not a bad thing, but some people are allergic. For example, I’m allergic to Penicillin — it’s a great drug for some people, but it could kill me. Also, a vaccine can only be developed after a virus is out and it’s too late for some people. I wanted to create something that could kill viruses before they had a chance to make people sick or take lives.”