E-Mist Innovations Inc., a health care technology startup headquartered in Fort Worth, is back in the national spotlight with its multimillion-dollar initiative to fight disease and create jobs in the West African nation of Guinea.
E-Mist first grabbed the attention of U.S. and international media in October 2014 when the company was called upon to disinfect the Dallas apartment of Ebola-stricken nurse Nina Pham and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, where Pham contracted the Ebola virus during the treatment of Thomas Eric Duncan, who died from the disease after being infected in his native Liberia and then traveling to Texas.
Like the Dallas effort in 2014, E-Mist Innovations’ $9 million Guinea initiative will use the company’s Touch Point Healthy Infection Control system, a patented device that sprays electrostatic, water-soluble chemicals on surfaces to kill viruses and bacteria. The company provides sanitation and disinfectant services for offices, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, classrooms, daycare centers, hotels, restaurants, libraries, gymnasiums and locker rooms, all types of public and mass transit, and public facilities.
E-Mist is partnering with John Snow Inc., a public health management consulting and research organization based in Boston, and with a foundation operated by the first lady of Guinea, Hadja Djenè Kaba Condé, in a pilot program called Touch Point Healthy Guinea.
“It is our goal to deliver support and leadership of advanced technologies and protocols that will best position the people of Guinea to contain and eradicate Ebola and many other known pathogens that hold back the development and advancement of communities,” said George Robertson, chairman and chief executive officer of E-Mist Innovations.
Announcement of the program last week sparked another round of media coverage for Robertson and his company, including a live interview July 25 on Fox News.
Robertson said the pilot program, which will focus primarily on Guinea’s capital and largest city, Conakry, will integrate training programs and on-site participation to improve the public health sector and institute regular sanitization and disinfection of touchable surfaces.
“We want the nation to know that it is possible to stop the spread of pathogens through better management of touch point surfaces,” Robertson said. “We are honored to be a part of the first lady’s program and to partner with JSI at such an important time in the recovery cycle for the country.”
Guinea is one of three West African countries, along with Liberia and Sierra Leone, that have suffered massive outbreaks of Ebola in the last year. While the epidemic seemed to have waned earlier this year, several dozen new cases have been reported in recent weeks in Guinea and Sierra Leone, reigniting concerns among international aid agencies.
But it’s not just about Ebola, Robertson emphasized.
“There is a large issue with Malaria region-wide,” he said. “Ebola is scary because the mortality rate is so high and the outbreak was so rapid. This plan is a long term process to reduce and hopefully prevent future outbreaks of many diseases.
“Our goal is to make every touch point surface in Africa healthy. This health care initiative can effectively change the surfaces we touch.”
E-Mist launched its product in September 2014, and the extensive media coverage it received the next month at the height of the Ebola outbreak in Dallas drew the attention of government officials in Guinea. They contacted the Fort Worth firm for more information, Robertson said.
“They reached out to us last October. In March, Mark Stratton, our president, and I met with the president of Guinea,” Robertson said. “The project’s moving quickly. It’s very exciting.”
E-Mist Innovations and Guinea completed a memorandum of understanding on July 23.
Robertson said the initial $9 million in funds for the project will come from multiple foundations in the form of grants as well as loans.
“We have circulated the plan and are confident with the responses that funding will occur in the very near future,” said Robertson. He said he expects to have the startup capital within 30 days.
“Our staff is already in place in Guinea. As soon as funding is complete, our staff will hit the ground immediately. We plan to be ready by October,” he said.
Robertson said he expects 3,000 new jobs to be created in West Africa if the initiative succeeds. Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria also have expressed interest.
As the total project grows over the next 18-24 months, Robertson, said, funding could reach $50 million. Those funds will be used for technology, equipment, chemicals for disinfecting, and infrastructure for setting up the business model, he said.
Some of the jobs related to the project will be in Fort Worth, Robertson said. “We have 14 employees now and we’ll add 40 to 50 people.”
New jobs being created will include a project management team, administrative support, logistics support, educational trainers, customer service and support, he said.
“We have started with some preliminary recruiting efforts and are confident that most of the employees will be recruited from the D-FW area,” Robertson said.
Robertson is a veteran of the health care industry. He and his son, Josh Robertson, recently sold their family-owned business, National HME, a niche company that provides medical equipment for the hospice and palliative care markets. George Robertson has invested in about 10 North Texas companies in addition to E-Mist Innovations. Earlier this year, he was named a HealthCare Hero by Fort Worth Business.