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Santa Clara Startup Helps Change Cumbersome COVID Testing

The uber-infectious Omicron variant of COVID-19 has left retailers’ shelves bare of test kits and overwhelmed testing operations. A resurgence of influenza that has combined with COVID to make “fluorona” — simultaneous infection with both viruses — is making a bad situation worse.

As daily case counts top one million, it’s clear the current testing model — one by one at mass test sites, undersupplied $15-$25 home test kits — isn’t up to the job. Clearly, a new approach is needed.

Alameda-based Alveo Technologies may have that new approach: a mobile app that brings the test site to your mobile phone. The be.well system at Alveo Technologies has a mobile unit that can test simultaneously for multiple infections —potentially a hundred — with an inexpensive, disposable cartridge. A single swab communicates the results to your mobile phone, where they’re analyzed, and sends those results to your doctor.

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Bringing the ‘test site’ home would take the pressure off mass testing sites, as well as save people time and inconvenience. With be.well schools could mass test students quickly and economically. For medical providers, distributing be.well devices to their patients not only cuts costs, it means better telemedicine because test results go automatically to doctors and digital medical records.

While Alveo Technologies has won prizes for its rapid testing technology, the challenge is getting that device in the hands of hundreds of millions of people quickly. That’s where Santa Clara startup Propel comes in. The company’s product lifecycle management system is helping to speed be.well to your mobile phone.

Although Propel isn’t a household name, it’s almost certain that something in your life depends on Propel’s software to bring the latest services and devices to you faster and cheaper.

Maybe you have a Vizio Smart TV or Roku’s streaming service. Or got gas recently at a Shell station. Or had surgery recently that relied on instruments sterilized in one of Advanced Sterilization Products’ systems. Or give your cat monthly treatments with Zoetis’ Revolution flea and tick prevention. These companies rely on Propel to streamline development, production and ongoing service for their products.

“When you’re developing a product you need to coordinate and collaborate with multiple people” explained Propel Chief Marketing Officer Dario Ambrosini.

“Communication among the team is taking place in different systems — email, Google Docs. Your information is dispersed, and it’s in silos — document management, CAD systems,” said Ambrosini. “So, when you need to find something, it always takes forever; three months from now, let alone three years from now, good luck finding it. The amount of time that manufacturers spend just looking for information and making it usable, is incredible.

“That slows the process down because you never know what you’re supposed to use to communicate,” Ambrosini continued. “Propel connects all of the capabilities that those different teams need so that when they log in, they have the tools that they need to get their jobs done. We then provide the collaboration and communication so that everything going into the product record.”

Consider cell phones with their multiplicities of models and versions.

“If I’m looking for why we made a certain decision to use a component supplier or a certain battery type with this phone,” Ambrosini explained, “I’m going to go directly into the product record to look for why we chose the component. That’s how we’re able to speed up the time to market.”

He estimates that Propel can cut 25 percent of the time to market, and improve profit at product introduction by as much as 50 percent.

Propel is making its mark. The six-year-old company was recently named #77 on the 2021 Deloitte Technology Fast 500 and has grown 2,200 percent over the last three years. One factor in that growth is the company’s central location in Santa Clara.

“Santa Clara was a good central location for a team that’s primarily based in the South Bay,” said Ambrosini. “We have employees who commute as far as the north side of the East Bay, as well as San Francisco. We’re right by the train station. So it was just a very convenient location for the talent that we wanted to attract.”

“Santa Clara’s location allows us to attract talent across the Bay Area.,” said Ambrosini. “Even though we are a remote-first company right now, at some point the pandemic will be over and we are poised for workers to return to the office.”

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