Startups to Watch: NOWDx testing for infectious disease in Africa; Menguin user base up 500%

by Jennifer Joyner (JJoyner@nwabj.com) 153 views 

Earlier this year, Talk Business & Politics and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal – with input from observers of the area’s startup scene – tagged several startup industries as the ones to watch in 2017.

Here are a few updates in the realms of medical technology, e-commerce and high technology.

• Medical Technology
With more than 35 products on the pipeline, NOWDiagnostics of Springdale has hired several new scientists and six full-time employees since January in order to ramp up manufacturing capacity of its various point-of-care medical screening tests and meet 2017 sales targets, said vice president of marketing Liz Slape.

The company also has brought on new customers, including distributors and has “expanded penetration with our largest healthcare system,” she said.

In March, NOWDx announced a partnership with Maryland-based biotechnology and diagnostics company Zalgen Labs, which specializes in high-impact, neglected infectious diseases, often called “diseases of poverty,” Slape said.

NOWDx advertises that its diagnostics tests are simpler to use than traditional tests and provide rapid results, and Zalgen is now using that screening platform for Ebola and hemorrhagic fever testing in West Africa.

“Previously, testing has largely been limited to clinical chemistry analyzers in a central lab,” Slape said. “This can present obvious logistical challenges when some are located hours away from the nearest city. … We’re happy to see our platform being used to help underserved populations,” she said.

NOWDx also has filed seven grant applications with the National Institute of Health but won’t know the outcome of those applications until later this year, Slape said.

• E-Commerce
Users of the online tuxedo rental company, Menguin, based in Fayetteville, increased fivefold between February 2016 and February 2017, and bookings increased 57% year-over-year in February, according to co-founder and CEO Justin Delaney.

Users are those who have created accounts on Menguin’s website, while bookings are the number of completed or reserved rental transactions. Delaney said boosts in bookings data tend to follow increases in users, but there is a delay of several months – and the number of users surged in January. Weddings, while not necessarily fast-growing, are a cultural cornerstone, Delaney said in an emailed newsletter.

“We are attempting to build a company that can live through any business cycle. We will grow it as quickly as the opportunity will allow, but no faster,” he said in the newsletter. “That is our commitment and this theme of timeless and mindful business strategies underlies everything that we do.”

Financially, the company showed a gross margin that was up 88% year-over-year, Delaney said. Menguin has 35 full-time employees.

• Technology
Ozark Integrated Circuits’ year-to-date booked revenue in February exceeded revenue for all of 2016, said Matt Francis, founder and president. The Fayetteville-based company is off to a strong start, which means there will likely be a need to add staff during the second half of the year, he said.

“We’re beginning to plan what kind of positions we’d be opening and what kinds of folks we’d like to see in them,” Francis said.

While there has been some turnover in the last few months, Ozark IC has held steady on staff, with eight total employees.

“All of our new employees in the last six months are from Arkansas,” Francis said. “So we are doing our bit to prevent the brain drain of the best people leaving Arkansas to find interesting jobs that can use their Arkansas-taught talents.”

Ozark IC recently signed a licensing deal with NASA to continue the evaluation of its silicon carbide computer chips for the aerospace market, as well as the geothermal energy industry. In late February, the company began a new research and development project to apply its high-temperature-withstanding technology within the geothermal industry. The research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Francis said the business climate looks good for Ozark IC.

“As far as our products go, the aerospace/military markets seem to be heating up, and there is still a huge interest in space exploration that is very important for our research and development lifecycle.”

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