This conversation between Grant Morgan (Co-Founder and CEO of R-Zero) and Duncan Turner (General Partner and Managing Director of SOSV’s HAX) took place at SOSV’s 2022 Annual General Meeting in New York City. The two discuss the founding of R-Zero and the once in a lifetime opportunity to disrupt the legacy disinfection industry. R-Zero is a biosafety technology company which deploys connected UV-C hardware to improve the health and safety of indoor spaces. SOSV’s HAX invested in R-Zero’s first investment round at the beginning of the SARS-CoV2 pandemic in March of 2020, and has continued to support the company in subsequent investment rounds.
Duncan: What was the genesis of R-Zero and how has it evolved over the past two years?
Grant: We aim to help our customers achieve healthier indoor environments and increase productivity by combining proven science with modern technologies such as machine learning and data science, UV-C, new software, and IOT capabilities. R-Zero’s connected ecosystem of biosafety technologies identifies risk by sensing how your building is being used, then automatically disinfects air and surfaces.
Duncan: Let’s go back in time to April 2020. There was a shortage of PPE, no one could travel, and COVID-19 was still in its infancy. How did R-Zero emerge during this time?
Grant: As the world was falling apart around us, we realized this was one of those moments throughout history when the world changed, bringing with it a new opportunity. We looked to past historical events that spawned wholly new industries.
With COVID-19 we expected similar changes, but of greater magnitude. COVID-19 would bring two areas of change: trust and safety. How can we make physical spaces safer? The trust component was conceived because there are psychological scars left over from COVID-19 that would linger in the public's eyes.
Historically, we have been doing manual chemical disinfection that frankly does not work. Humans have spent 90% of our lives indoors, even before COVID-19, and with that, 40 million Americans get the flu every year.
Duncan: What was the impact of joining HAX?
Grant: HAX changed the trajectory of the company. Due to supply chain and travel issues during COVID, we were unable to visit suppliers in-person. Duncan, Garrett and Keji physically went onsite to manufacturers to look at the first article parts for R-Zero’s prototypes. HAX represented us in negotiations, prototyped the product for us with their team of in-house engineers, and accelerated the product development process, which was vital. Our first product, Arc, was designed, developed, and manufactured in five months. ARC is a UVC whole room disinfection system for unoccupied spaces. It is undoubtedly the most functional and cost-effective on the market, and it's sold for a fraction of the cost of the incumbents. The success of this project would not have been possible without HAX.
Duncan: What milestones did you face in the first 18 months?
Grant: We raised a seed and jumped right into prototyping. We developed our first prototype, Arc, with the help of HAX, and once we had it in hand the first thing we did was take it on site to a hotel to receive customer feedback. Housekeeping staff immediately saw the value, and were proud to have this additional tool in their toolbox to keep their customers safe. It empowered them to feel like they were really doing their part. This was a huge lightbulb moment for us, and it really informed the product roadmap. Following the production of the first prototype, the demand for the product was almost immediate, which led to our Series A from Double Bottom Line. In June 2021 we closed a Series B for $50M led by World Innovation Labs with participation from John Doerr and Mayo Clinic.
Duncan: Where have you tested R-Zero, what were the results?
Grant: We conducted a study with a noteworthy academic institution this year where we installed our suite of products in multiple sets of classrooms at one of the largest school districts in the country. From that study, we were able to see a significant reduction of SARS-CoV-2 presence in wastewater.
Duncan: What is the role that R-Zero has in our world when there is no longer COVID-19?
Grant: There is a paradigm shift catalyzed by COVID-19 resulting in a new awareness of the relationship between indoor spaces and human health. Across institutional banks, universities, senior living homes, and professional sports team facilities, people are demanding safer environments.
Duncan: What is the planetary health component of what you do? What emphasis on human health within buildings translates for energy consumption?
Grant: Human health is inextricably linked to the health of the planet. The third link is buildings. The building sector is the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses and has received hundreds of trillions of dollars in investments to become more energy efficient. Our products at R-Zero can improve the indoor air quality in buildings and help organizations reduce HVAC usage and use less energy as a result. This also has a sustainability component. A gallon of chemical disinfectant might weigh seven pounds for example, is a non-reusable resource, and is shipped all over the world in plastic packaging. We use light instead of chemicals, meaning our products produce 200x less waste compared to manual chemical disinfection. By creating healthier outcomes for humans, we are also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Duncan: Can you walk us through the products and what they do?
Grant: Arc is our mobile whole room disinfection device. The Arc trails the custodial or janitorial staff by wheeling into the room, plugging it into the wall, setting the timer, and pressing "GO." In 7 minutes or less, we can disinfect a thousand square foot space to 4 log reduction, which means 99.99% disinfection of the air and surfaces. We also embedded an LTE chip into the handle, which generates data about how, when, and where the product is used and emits it to our cloud offering which we can report on to our customers.
Beam is the first autonomous LED powered Upper-Room UVGI for air disinfection in open and occupied spaces. Approximately 7-9 feet high, it bolts onto the wall and provides a beam of UVC across the ceiling where people cannot interact. When you breathe out hot air, if you are sick then that air is contaminated, and that hot air will naturally float up to the beam of UVC to then disinfect it. When it cools and comes back down, it is safe to breathe. Each room can receive 8-12 air changes per hour. Lastly, Vive disinfects air in real-time and is used for enclosed spaces like conference rooms or bathrooms.
Duncan: Thank you.
Grant: Thank you Duncan and the HAX team, you've has been incredibly impactful on the company and we are grateful for your continued support.