When Kathryn Worrilow, founder and CEO of LifeAire Systems LLC, began research to create her company, her focus was very specific – in vitro fertilization.
It was a very small market, but one she saw as important to families trying to have children.
But with the arrival of COVID-19, she found herself in the position many in the biotech industry have: a need to focus on the war on viruses. And the impact the demand has had on what was once a small startup is a story any entrepreneur or inventor would dream of.
About a decade ago, Worrilow was a reproductive physiologist working as scientific director of Lehigh Valley Health Network’s in vitro fertilization laboratory when she came up with the idea for LifeAire. She wanted to come up with an air purification system that would bolster the success rate of IVF.
The LifeAire System would kill viruses as small as Anthrax, the smallest of the viruses, to ensure the protection of the delicate, newly created embryos.
Her original LifeAire system was created for that purpose, but she soon saw the benefit of having a higher quality air purification system for overall hospital use, and in long-term care facilities where the residents can be as fragile as those embryos.
She began research and development on ways to take that IVF-specific system and integrate it into HVAC systems for larger health care facilities.
There proved to be a market.
In 2017 St. Luke’s University Health Network added a LifeAire system to its Allentown campus, one of a growing number of health centers to do so.
When pandemic hit in early 2020, demand for air purification was everywhere. The company went from three verticals, IVF, hospitals and long term care facilities to more than 10. LifeAire now has customers ranging from police stations and schools to Broadway theaters, and a large volume of corporate offices.
The growth she has seen by expanding LifeAire’s customer base has been staggering.
“The number of locations in which we now have the LifeAire technology increased 350% from the pre-pandemic time to the current time,” Worrilow said. “The number of LifeAire products installed increased 700% from the pre-pandemic time to the current time.”
Interestingly, the expansion wasn’t Worrilow’s idea. She was thinking about LifeAire in a wider setting, concentrating her efforts on serving health care providers.
The expansion came from demand. When the pandemic hit she got calls from worried building owners wondering if LifeAire could help protect their employees and customers.
“We weren’t thinking beyond our core verticals,” Worrilow said. But when asked if it would work, she knew it would based on the research they had already done on the technology. So her answer became “yes.”
“We responded because we wanted to help in any way we could,” she said. “It has been nonstop since a year ago February.”
One of those new corporate customers is Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s TechVentures building in Bethlehem, the place where LifeAire got its start.
Laura Eppler, chief marketing officer for BFTPNEP, said there are many other biotech companies working out of TechVentures that need that protection and the organization wanted to make sure it was offering a safe environment for its clients moving forward.
“Everyone wants to think that this [COVID-19] is a one off, but it probably isn’t,” Eppler said.
The LifeAire system wasn’t chosen because of its relationship with TechVentures.
“We researched to make sure it was the best product for us,” she said.
Knowing the science that went into the development of the system, Eppler said they were confident the LifeAire system was the most effective of the available air purification systems out there.
“COVID-19 is so small it doesn’t always respond to standard preventative technology, but if it can kill Anthrax it can kill COVID-19,” she said.
As with LifeAire’s other clients, the system was retrofitted into TechVenture’s existing HVAC system and is now eliminating 99.9% of pathogens in the air.
Much of Worrilow’s time has been speaking with business and building owners about viral control and steering them to a system that might be smaller or less complicated, but will still suit their needs.
Offering options isn’t slowing demand, however. LifeAire has added staff and outsourced some manufacturing to keep up with the demand for the product.
She’s also working on research and development of new air purification products.
COVID-19 opened the public’s eyes about the threat viruses pose around the globe. She said it is a fight that will continue and a fight she hopes LifeAire Systems can help the world win.n