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WUWM’s Chuck Quirmbach reports on innovation in southeastern Wisconsin.

Milwaukee Medical Startups Expand Offerings During COVID-19 Pandemic

Courtesy of Lindsey Roddy
A respirator mask made by the Milwaukee-area firm Roddy Medical.

Pretty much any time can be challenging for a young business or startup. That appears to be especially true now, during the COVID-19 pandemic that's dramatically changed consumer spending and shut down many companies. 

But some early-stage firms in the medical field are staying open or expanding by adjusting to present needs. 

>>Latest WUWM & NPR Coronavirus Coverage

For example, Vytal Health, a Milwaukee company that started in 2018 and has four full-time employees. It's a virtual firm that says it focuses on functional medicine — getting at the root causes of disease. Cofounder Alex Yampolsky says during COVID, his company's one-hour visits between patients and doctors via computer have partly centered on helping people improve their immune system.

"How can you stay healthy when others around you are getting sick? What can you do from a more holistic approach to get yourself healthy? What should you eat, how should you exercise, and so on. Next, we started offering some help around anxiety and sleep issues that so many people are experiencing right now,” Yampolsky told WUWM.

Yampolsky says his firm recognizes that some people are financially strapped. So, Vytal Health is offering pay what you can appointments. Yampolsky says he hopes the overall growth in telemedicine done by some large health care firms makes more people interested in what Vytal offers.

Courtesy of Danish Siddiqui
Dr. Danish Siddiqui is a cofounder of Remedy Now, a medical startup based in Oak Creek that now offers in-home testing for COVID-19.

An Oak Creek-based company that started three years ago also offers telehealth care, but with an old-fashioned twist. Physicians at Remedy Now can also make house calls after an initial televisit. Cofounder Dr. Danish Siddiqui says he has about a half-dozen employees.  

He says the company recently added in-home testing for COVID-19. "Where they would not be able to get this care anywhere else — in the emergency room or the majority of physician offices were closed. So, I think the usefulness of this has much more value at this point in time during this current pandemic than any time before,” Siddiqui said.

Roddy Medical is an early-stage medical device company. CEO Lindsey Roddy is also a Ph.D. student in the nursing program at UW-Milwaukee. She says they've started making respirator masks for health care workers and first responders who help COVID-19 patients to replace the N95 masks that have been in limited supply.

"It's a thermo-form mold mask. It's clear in the front, so patients can see the faces of those taking care of them. It also utilizes an FDA-approved medical-grade filter that can be replaced and be used for fairly long periods of time per the facility's discretion,” Roddy explained.

>>More Wisconsin Sites Will Decontaminate Medical Equipment For Reuse

Roddy says plenty of collaborators, including engineers and designers with the UWM Prototyping Center, have helped create what's called the Together Mask. A local hospital will receive 100 of the masks.

Roddy Medical is looking into contracting with a mask manufacturer. It's one of many next-step decisions entrepreneurs are trying to make during the current economic crunch. Many executives are hoping investment dollars have not dried up.

Roddy says a business accelerator program provided some seed money. Family and friends have helped, and a GoFundMe campaign has been set up.

"We're getting everything lined up to start asking bigger because this is not a small task,” Roddy said.

The organization Startup Wisconsin has just released a survey of high-growth startups that urges several policies to help the state's innovation economy. The recommendations include tax credits, grants or loans that lead to increased investment. Startup Wisconsin says some money could come from the $2 billion the state is getting from the coronavirus relief package called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

During this pandemic, WUWM's Bubbler Talk is focusing on the coronavirus and its impact on the Milwaukee area. If you have a question, submit it below.


Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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