In otherwise normal times, hospitals generate more than 5 million tons of waste each year, according to Greenhealth. Personal protective equipment (PPE) was in short supply over the past two years, and it was widely reported that some had to reuse what is typically a single-use item, like surgical gowns.
MEDU, a Mexico-based startup, wants to reduce that waste and replace single-wear medical garments through the creation of a line of sustainable, virus-resistant reusable pieces, including surgical gowns, head coverings and full-body suits.
The company was started in 2020 by CEO Tamara Chayo, a chemist and Thiel Fellow, who had family in the medical and textile industries and saw firsthand the need for PPE. She and her team began investigating fabrics to see which had the ability to capture viruses, and when they began getting positive test results from the lab, they formed MEDU.
The products are made with fabric that is certified level 4 AAMI PB70, the highest fluid and microbial barrier protection, providing maximum protection against particles, viruses and bacteria, she told TechCrunch.
The company started trials in Mexican hospitals, buoyed by an initial $400,000 investment, to test and certify the results and see if doctors liked wearing the products.
“Doctors said ours were comfortable for them, but we did a lot of modifying and learning from that experience,” Chayo said. “The products can be reused for up to 50 washes, so you can use the same gown instead of changing into a different one, which saves money and waste.”
Tamara Chayo, CEO of MEDU. Image Credits: MEDU
To figure out those 50 washes, embedded near-field communication (NFC) technology in the garments are tracked in real time and healthcare practitioners are informed via a mobile app how many times a gown has been washed. After the 50 wears, the garment is returned to MEDU facilities where it is then disinfected and converted into scrubs and sustainable packaging.
The company is profitable and continues to grow its revenue at a rate of 6x each month. Since January, it has deployed approximately 7,000 pieces of equipment, which Chayo said is equivalent to 3 million disposables.
By the end of 2022, the company aims to replace more than 20 million single-use PPE gowns and divert 6,000 tons of hospital waste from landfills or incinerators. In addition, the company has doubled in size and is working with hospitals in New York and Los Angeles.
Supply chain continues to be a big challenge, and MEDU is among other startups that came onto the scene in the last two years to help hospitals and healthcare practitioners get the equipment and PPE they need. That includes bttn, which raised $20 million in Series A funds in June for its medical supply marketplace enabling doctors to get supplies they need faster and at better costs.
MEDU itself is now flush with $4 million in seed funding in a round led by MaC Venture Capital, with participation from Halcyon Fund and a group of angel investors, including Ryan Shea.
The funding gives the company fuel to grow as it expands into the U.S. and continues development of its full-body suit. Chayo plans to partner with up to 15 hospitals across the U.S. by the end of the year.
She explained that the decision to go after venture capital was to gain partners that would help the company grow. She feels MaC Venture Capital fit that bill — it was already an investor in healthcare companies — and would be able to give the company hands-on support as MEDU looked to improve and expand in the United States.
MEDU is working on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for its garments, which Chayo expects to happen later this year. It also is applying for approval in the European Union and going to start building relationships in Israel. In the meantime, the company already has approval in Mexico and is working with five hospitals there.
Chayo's personality, gumption and background as a chemist with family in the medical and textile industries made investing in MEDU “one of the easiest decisions I ever made,” Michael Palank, general manager at MaC Venture Capital, told TechCrunch.
“You couldn’t script this,” he added. “The traction that she has pre-FDA approval, including trials in some of the biggest well-known hospitals in the U.S., but also those hospitals are introducing her to other hospitals which is the best form of customer acquisition. MEDU is also doing well in Mexico, where it is in one of the country’s biggest hospitals. This couldn't be more of a global company, and it is going to get very big quickly.”