Vioguard CEO Larry Ranta Takes Germ-Zapping Keyboard Into Growing Hospital Market

The concept is simple: a computer keyboard that self-sanitizes by zapping potentially deadly germs with ultraviolet light. The technology could help prevent the spread of nasty bacterial invaders like MRSA in hospitals and other institutions with shared computer facilities. That’s the idea behind Vioguard, a Bothell, WA, company co-founded by startup specialist Larry Ranta and his nephew, Craig Ranta, a former hardware engineering director at Microsoft. Larry is Vioguard’s president and CEO, while Craig is the chief technology officer.

Vioguard completed a $1 million first-round financing in January that included angel investors but no venture capitalists, Larry Ranta says. He adds that Vioguard has gotten an additional $250,000 in funding committed since then, and he’s looking to raise between $2.5 million and $3 million more by June, mostly from angel groups. He has been impressed so far with the reception he’s gotten from investors interested in Vioguard.

“This has been the easiest raise I’ve ever seen,” he says. “You show it, people get it, and it’s done. We’re doing another round now, and big players are interested. The next round will be more than we need, to get us through to full revenue. We’ve already designed the machine, so most of our cost will be sales and marketing.”

Vioguard, founded last June, now has five employees, plus six full-time contractors. Ranta has been around the block with startups for the past 25 years, usually in an advisory role—sometimes serving as a C-level executive or vice president, or providing specific help in areas like product marketing.

He seems to have hit on something big with Vioguard. Hospitals are especially motivated to rid their environments of deadly bacteria like MRSA and “C. Diff,” which are seeing fast-growing incidence. About 30 to 40 cases of C. Diff bacteria—which causes horrible and sometimes fatal cases of diarrhea—were reported per 100,000 people discharged from hospitals in 2001, and that figure tripled to about 100 cases per 100,000 discharges in 2005, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data is elusive on these kinds of bugs, because hospitals hate to admit any guilt and invite legal liability, but this is undoubtedly a growth market. (Pfizer’s anti-MRSA antibiotic, linezolid (Zyvox), topped $1 billion in worldwide sales last year.)

And hospitals know that bugs like these can spread from the hands of healthcare workers onto common areas like keyboards. What’s special about Vioguard’s patent-pending technology is … Next Page »

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