Published April 18, 2022
On a Mission to Ensure Safe Indoor Air
By Jen Levisen
For making sure the air is safe and healthy to breathe.
This Bay Area biotech company, founded in 2015, pivoted from its main business of “DNA barcoding” food and pharmaceutical products to make them traceable through the supply chain. Today, the company leverages its aerosol tracing technology to verify ventilation and filtration performance in any indoor environment. The system uses patented synthetic “DNA-tagged aerosol tracers” to detect, measure, and visualize abnormalities in airflow, ventilation, and filtration in real-world indoor spaces, safely simulating respiratory emission and occupational exposure to infectious aerosols such as COVID-19. Recent clients include the California Department of Corrections, the Port Authority of NY/NJ, schools, long-term care facilities, and commercial landlord Brookfield Properties. SafeTraces experienced 200% quarter-on-quarter revenue growth in 2021.
For making sure the air is safe and healthy to breathe. Is there a more worthy reason to be named to Fast Company’s Top 10 Most Innovative BioTech Companies of 2022? I recently had the opportunity to talk with SafeTraces CEO Erik Malmstrom about the recognition and what the company is planning next.
JL: Erik, congratulations on the Fast Company recognition! What was that moment like for you and the team?
EM: We’re honored, humbled, and proud. We feel like we belong on that list. It’s a credit to our team who has worked so tirelessly, and to our investors, customers and partners who believe in what we’re doing.
JL: How has it helped you amplify your work at SafeTraces?
EM: We’re always looking for ways to amplify what we’re doing, which we think has huge importance. The world has been brought to its knees because of COVID-19 and other airborne diseases. We have incredible technology that can equip so many with information to make better decisions about their spaces and provide some semblance of control. The more people who hear about us, the more people we can talk to, the more we can spread our message.
JL: In March, SafeTraces and UL launched a program to help K-12 schools reopen safely. Can you tell me more about that?
EM: It’s an indoor air quality, ventilation and filtration verification, and infection control program that helps enhance student, teacher, and staff safety. We combined UL’s expertise with our veriDART® solution, which allows us to verify that air and airflow are safe. In the face of a highly transmissible and potentially lethal airborne pathogen like COVID-19, this has never been more important and the stakes have never been higher. Unequivocally, this program establishes a benchmark for K-12 school safety verification.
JL: What’s next? What are you focusing on?
EM: Scale, scale, scale, educate, educate, educate.
The EPA’s release of the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge, as part of President Biden’s National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, feels like finally the government acknowledging that COVID-19 is in fact transmitted through the air. There has been so much focus on vaccinations and social distancing, and rightly so, but nothing on ventilation and filtration. My hope is now with this announcement that initiatives and funding will follow, allowing schools, civic facilities, and mass transit — not just the private sector — to have access to the tools and programs needed to ensure the air quality in their spaces is safe for all.
Right now our business and tech is primarily a B2B technology. We work with Environmental, Health and Safety groups and facility managers, but our goal is to go further than that. That's the ambition of the UL program, too — to reach the public. To educate people in a digestible way on why indoor air quality is important. We want to create transparency. We want to get away from people walking into a building and having it be a black box. We want people to know that the buildings they occupy are safe.