(L-R) Henry Bass, Robert Broyden, Lisa Broyden and Thomas Weeks display the awards Lisa Broyden’s GermZAPP invention won at a recent Gauntlet ceremony.
By Lisa Bass
A real dilemma for businesses, particularly restaurants, during the coronavirus pandemic is how they could monitor their employees’ hand washing. How can managers be sure their employees are actually washing their hands for 20 seconds or more and in the manner safety protocols demand?
A Blacksburg inventor has solved the problem.
Lisa Broyden has come up with GermZAPP, a device that can be installed next to sinks to provide visual and auditory cues to a hand-washer. Broyden’s invention and her subsequent business startup won the first place platinum award at the recent virtual Gauntlet’s awards ceremony.
The Gauntlet is a ten-week business development program that connects entrepreneurs to resources such as training sessions, networking with successful entrepreneurs and development of business strategies. The program culminates with a competition for $300,000 in cash and in-kind awards such as low interest loan funds, matching grants and industry expertise.
The Advancement Foundation in Vinton sponsors The Gauntlet. TAF is a nonprofit founded in 2007 to work in concert with economic and community development organizations to provide infrastructure, support and resources to create an effective entrepreneurial ecosystem. The Gauntlet entered its sixth year as COVID-19 emerged, forcing the competition to move to a virtual experience for the 170 applicants.
Broyden has been an occupational therapist for 30 years. In 2018, her mother underwent hip replacement surgery. Broyden was impressed with the hospital staff’s attention to infection control prior to her mother’s surgery. While sitting in the hospital room for several days, Broyden noticed a pattern. Some staff would wash their hands for the full twenty seconds prescribed for a thorough hand washing. Some staff did not.
Broyden began to wonder if there were a way to remind people of the essential twenty-second time requirement other than just posting a sign over a sink. She felt that what was needed was a device that could provide visual and audible cues for proper hand washing steps, including a timer. Her inspiration came from an electric toothbrush with a two-minute timer for proper brushing per the American Dental Association.
As a clinician, Broyden has been well aware throughout her professional career of the necessity for practicing good hand hygiene. Frequent quality and timely hand washes have always been a priority for good patient care.
Enter COVID, which brought with it a heightened awareness of hand washing as one of the best methods to slow the spread of this deadly disease. Broyden realized her idea could be a very helpful tool on many levels. No hand washing tracking system existed that could be used for restaurants and businesses. The Center for Disease Control had underscored the need for such a system with studies documenting the lack of proper employee hand washing practices in restaurant and business settings.
What Broyden and a team came up with was GermZAPP, a system that can be mounted above a sink in any bathroom. It includes a microcomputer scanner with an instruction screen. An employee wears an RFID tag and is detected within a “wash zone.” Timed visual and auditory cues provide the employee with the information necessary to complete the CDCs five steps of proper hand washing.
GermZAPP cloud software reports hand washing compliance to the managers of businesses such as restaurants, schools, day-care centers and long-term care facilities, which allows the managers and owners to track compliance. The goal is to prevent the spread of communicable diseases such as COVID-19 through the development of proper hand hygiene habits.
GermZAPP has an educational side also as it could be helpful with early intervention for children in schools and day-care facilities.
The Gauntlet Business Program and Competition helped Broyden bring her idea to life. At the orientation for the program, she met Tom England of Pareto Insight in Dublin, who suggested she manufacture a prototype. Broyden’s next stop was to seek software advice from Henry Bass of Automation Creations, Inc., in Blacksburg. Bass suggested the microcontroller and the RFID tag concept with cloud-based reporting.
Bass brought in Thomas Weeks to build the first hardware prototype, and then Broyden connected with Richard Manzell of IVO Ltd. of Covington to develop a larger scale production plan for the GermZAPP hardware.
Of the experience, Broyden said, “The Gauntlet program and finding the right people were the keys to it all.”
With the Gauntlet awards she won, Broyden will be converting her provisional patent to a full patent and manufacturing more GermZAPP units with IVO. Broyden sees GermZAPP as a potent addition to fighting germs and keeping people healthy through proper handwashing.
Broyden said, “I see GermZAPP helping to create best practice habits for individuals, which in turn will have a ripple effect on the health of their communities. I hope to see a lot of empowered people with really clean hands.”