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International Visitor Leadership Program Alumni Use Entrepreneurship to Respond to COVID-19

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A man with protective equipment uses the DISACT technology to sanitize a gym.
The DISACT technology sanitizing a gym.

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International Visitor Leadership Program Alumni Use Entrepreneurship to Respond to COVID-19

In 2019, Dr. Einar Mäntylä, Dr. Marius Mitroi, and Mr. Massimo Magnifico visited the United States as part of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) Multi-Regional Project titled “Science and Technology Entrepreneurship.” A year later, as the COVID-19 pandemic has left no region untouched, the alumni are drawing on their backgrounds in entrepreneurship and experiences from the IVLP to play an active role in pandemic response efforts. 

Dr. Einar Mäntylä is supporting a medical technology startup. As a biotech entrepreneur and the CEO of the Technology Transfer Office Iceland who holds both an MBA and a PhD in molecular genetics, he became involved in COVID-19 response efforts when he was contacted by a small start-up called DISACT, which developed a disinfectant technology with the power to inactivate SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. DISACT uses equipment to diffuse a non-irritating, non-corrosive disinfectant solution that can sanitize a room in 15-20 minutes. Mäntylä recognized the need for further research into the effectiveness of DISACT’S technology and contacted researchers at University of Utah’s Institute for Antiviral Research to conduct a study. The researchers found that DISACT’s disinfectant solution inactivates 99.8% of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in less than a minute. Since then, Mäntylä and his team have focused on designing mobile prototypes that can be used in environments like gyms and hospitals. They have even developed a hand sanitizer. On his work with DISACT, Mäntylä says, “Entrepreneurship is vital in times like these to quickly come up with solutions and execute them. The agility and flexibility of entrepreneurs is an important asset when the society and the economy is threatened by a pandemic.”  

Dr. Marius Mitroi is the co-founder of Thinkstitute, CEO and co-founder of RIDESAFE Technology, and serves as an external expert for the Romanian National Agency for Higher Education, Research, and Innovation Funding (UEFISCDI).  He is currently working to help Romanian’s science and technology community collaborate more efficiently on COVID-19 responses. In his work at the UEFISCDI, Mitroi developed an online platform called BrokerMap to help respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. BrokerMap is a permanent extension of the UEFISCDI’s BrainMap.ro, an online community of researchers, innovators, technicians, and entrepreneurs. BrokerMap leverages the science and tech community within BrainMap.ro by allowing innovators and scientists to come together virtually to propose and develop solutions to complex challenges. For example, users have submitted proposals for collaborative medical technology research that targets COVID-19 issues. Although the platform can be used without registration, BrainMap.ro has 39,026 registered accounts and continues to grow. For anyone who wants to be involved in COVID-19 relief efforts but is not sure where to start, Mitroi advises, “Surround yourself with knowledgeable people, listen to the needs around you, and act fast. The only way to overcome this crisis is to leverage our knowledge and resources and to work together.”  

Massimo Magnifico, a native of France, is the COO and a Board Member of EuraTechnologies, a France-based start-up incubator. A week before France instituted country-wide lockdown restrictions, Magnifico gathered his team to discuss the company’s direction in response to the outbreak of COVID-19. They decided to close their campuses in four cities and devote those resources to providing access for other companies to produce medical equipment, supplies, and other necessities needed for COVID-19 response. To assist the eighty project holders and entrepreneurs that the company supports, EuraTechnologies organized over 100 online workshops featuring international experts and entrepreneurs on topics ranging from managing finances in the pandemic to adapting to remote work. “EuraTechnologies’ role,” says Magnifico, “is less about promoting innovation and more about giving support to people who can produce essential equipment and products, using our local and international network, and helping entrepreneurs make informed decisions.” Magnifico, who was recently involved in an online EdTech Accelerator Program organized by fellow 2019 IVLP alumnus Voldemars Bredikis, sees the intersection of tech and education as a key emerging field due to the pandemic. “Each crisis opens new opportunities. Education, in my opinion, will be the next sector to be impacted by new technology, which can make a positive change in teaching effectiveness and student learning.” A few months ago, EuraTechnologies launched its first fully remote incubation session with 52 new projects, and Magnifico is proud to be leading a new path forward for his firm.   

With their backgrounds in entrepreneurship and their experiences from the IVLP, these IVLP alumni are at the forefront of creating and leading innovative solutions to the COVID-19 crisis.