Across the United States, the COVID-19 crisis has exposed an acute lack of preparedness for a fast-growing global pandemic, with critical medical supplies running dangerously low in many places.
But legions are stepping up to this nationwide challenge, including a startup co-founded by Foster alumnus Scott Barrows (BA 2000).
Barrows’s two-year-old company, EchoSystem, has converted its procurement platform for industrial chemicals almost overnight into a market platform to move critical supplies and materials to where they are most needed. Fast.
EchoSystem’s Visibility and Procurement Platform (VAPP) enables hospitals, non-profits and government agencies to connect directly with manufacturers and distributors to source essential health care materials such as isopropyl alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and chlorine dioxide, and critical products such as N95 masks, cotton swabs, endotracheal tubes, protective gloves and clothes and face shields, PCR test kits, ventilators and vital sign monitors.
And Barrows’ company is offering this service for free—“for as long as it takes to defeat this pandemic,” he says.
EchoSystem is not Barrows’ first foray into wide-scale logistics. He got his start under the tutelage of Foster’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, co-founding the sports and entertainment ticket brokerage Epic Seats in 2003 with longtime friend and fellow Foster grad James Kimmel (BA 1999, MBA 2005).
Barrows and Kimmel thrived amid a crowded marketplace for aggregated ticket sales, and eventually added Epic Inventory Management, providing back-end operations such as customer service, order processing and shipping—to small and mid-sized ticket brokerages across the country. They later launched Zero Hero, a B2B platform for the event ticketing industry that was acquired by Ticketmaster in 2017.
Barrows leveraged this nationwide market-building experience into EchoSystem, which he developed with fellow UW grads Austin Britts (BS 2003, economics) and Kevin Fuller (BA 2002, economics). But many of Barrows’ old UW friends and associates are also involved in the new venture, including Kimmel, Tim Randall (BS 2004, MBA 2009), Todd Harry (BA 2002, sociology), Steve Greiling (BS 2002, construction management), Rick Wells (BA 2003, biology) and William Kessler (BA 2000, geography).
“Lots of Huskies have either been involved in starting this or are invested in this,” Barrows says.
Barrows & Co. partnered with 15 of the nation’s largest chemical distributors to provide a seamless marketplace to move raw materials used in countless industries. They launched the pilot a month ago.
But when COVID-19 began cutting across the nation, government response lagged, and front-line healthcare providers were left insufficiently equipped to safely battle the virus, EchoSystem stepped in.
“To have a chance at defeating this pandemic we, as a nation, have to move critical raw materials faster and we have to provide greater visibility and procurement ability of critical finished goods,” Barrows says. “This issue will become even greater as supplies continue to become sparser and in greater demand.”
Finding no existing solution for government agencies, the military and health care providers to acquire the goods and materials they need to fight the spread of COVID-19, Barrow and his partners repurposed EchoSystem’s market platform in just 72 hours to create VAPP, built on the latest secure cloud-based technology. And they offered it for free.
The National Association of Chemical Distributors—whose member companies move $32B in raw materials each year—was the first trade group to sign on to EchoSystem’s VAPP network. The Distilled Spirits Council has also joined up, providing direct access to the mass quantities of hand sanitizer and cleaning agents that distillers all over the nation have begun producing.
And he’s working quickly to get the message out and onboard other supplier trade groups, state and local governments, military agencies, hospitals, clinics and non-profit organizations around the nation.
How it works
Once on the VAPP, accredited buyers that are focused on COVID-19 response have unprecedented real-time visibility and access to the nation’s supply of raw materials and critical finished goods. They can even place a “Wanted” request for specific chemicals or health care materials—say, 10,000 N95 masks or eight drums of isopropyl alcohol. And accredited suppliers have the ability to sell these materials and goods at fair market prices in all 50 states.
To prevent price-gouging in this time of urgent need, all transactions and prices are logged in real time, providing system-wide access to pricing anomalies.
Call to action
Barrows has been in action mode since he decided to marshal his company’s resources into an innovative weapon in the war against COVID-19. But he has stolen a few moments to contemplate the ramifications of this profound test of humanity, the reasons he’s entered the fight, and what it will take for this nation to prevail together.
“The challenge that faces us in defeating this pandemic is one that we can overcome,” Barrows says. “The key to our success will be shedding our egos and embracing our souls. Our souls are our moral compasses, the part of us that is true and that wants to guide us to do right, to treat others right, and to find the most logical path to a solution.
“Time is the most critical element in this war. Every decision with one’s ego is a step back. Every decision made with one’s soul is a step forward.
“God has provided us an opportunity to show our best selves as a society and he has put us in a virtual ‘escape room.’ He also has given us every tool that we need to survive. We just need to listen to our souls and make the right decisions to get us out. Everyone has something that can help. We need to tap into that voice, search deep, and find what that is and go with it.”