E-Mist finds focus: Ebola gives infection control start-up its moment in spotlight

By Robert Francis

In the space of 72 hours, George Robertson found his company’s products on the cover of The New York Times and himself on CNN and WFAA, along with innumerable mentions in various media around the world. “It’s exciting from a business point of view,” said Robertson, CEO of E-Mist Innovations of Fort Worth. The company had developed the Touch Point Healthy Infection Control System, which is used to spray water-soluble chemicals on surfaces to eliminate viruses and bacteria. The reason E-Mist received this attention though, was serious: the Ebola virus that killed Thomas Eric Duncan and infected at least two nurses who treated him at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

The E-Mist systems were photographed in use by hazardous materials crews in and around the Dallas apartment of nurse Nina Pham, landing on the cover of The New York Times. Pham, who graduated from Texas Christian University’s nursing program, is the first person to have contracted the Ebola virus in the United States after working on the medical team caring for Duncan. For Robertson, a health care business veteran as well as an investor in the company, the attention allowed the company to deliver its message. “It’s really exciting from an investor standpoint,” he said. “But also we’re really making a difference. We’re changing standards in the way we disinfect. Every day 200 Americans die because they acquire an infection in the hospital.” Pointing to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that indicate 1.2 million Americans die from infections picked up in hospitals annually, Robertson says the E-Mist technology provides a standard to control infections that has previously been unavailable. The media and public focus may now be on Ebola, but Robertson said a device like Touch Point is necessary to get rid of other dangerous bacteria or viruses.

“The old spray and wipe stuff is just not working,” he said. “Now that we’ve got this machine you can cover all these areas with the chemicals you need.” That message has gotten through, according to Robertson. “We’ve had some health care organizations, government agencies and school districts that have bought the machine,” Robertson said. Airlines have indicated interest as well, he said.

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Robertson attributed much of this to appearances in The New York Times, CNN and local media. “When I appeared on CNN, within 20 minutes I had 850 emails,” he said. The company’s manufacturing partner is ramping up to meet demand. The company’s success is also a win for Fort Worth’s Cowtown Angels investment group, which invested $150,000 in the startup last January. It’s also a win for technology accelerator Tech Fort Worth, where E-Mist has been a client for several years. As part of the investment, E-Mist also named Cowtown Angels member Robertson as its president and CEO. Robertson is executive chairman and founder of National HME, a medical equipment company for hospices. “It’s been crazy, but this is a good place and a good time to be where I am,” he said. “I’ve been in health care for 35 years and been in different areas trying to establish standards to make health care better for people. I can’t miss this.”