A new company, Response—founded by recent Cornell CS graduates Keivan Shahida, Kais Baillargeon, and Nolan Gray—is building a marketplace of verified medical suppliers so healthcare professionals around the world can safely purchase PPE [personal protective equipment] and other critical medical equipment. An already vital project when it launched a couple of years ago, the urgency of their corporate and technological efforts are even more pronounced in the time of COVID-19 when the efficient distribution of medical supplies has a significant impact on public health. Response has already delivered thousands of medical supplies to healthcare providers around the country.
Personnel: [center] Keivan Shahida, CEO & Co-founder (Cornell Engineering, CS '20); [right] Kais Baillargeon, Co-founder (Cornell Engineering, OR '20); and [left] Nolan Gray, Co-founder (Cornell Engineering, CS '19). Website: https://www.tryresponse.com/
CS News caught up with Keivan, who offered the following reflections on the origins and ongoing progress of the company:
CS News: Please tell us about the origins of your company, especially what motivated your approach.
Keivan: We started Response about two years ago. We wanted to use our backgrounds as software engineers and product designers to build something meaningful, so we began by developing products that help nonprofits operate more efficiently. Our basic rationale was that if we could help nonprofits become more efficient, then, it would naturally follow that we could help a lot of people. We learned pretty quickly that one of the biggest problems humanitarian organizations were facing was procurement—the highly-structured process they use for purchasing anything from food kits to humvees. Fast forward two years and we’ve now worked with hundreds of procurement officers in over forty countries and built a platform to automate procurement for these nonprofits.
Clearly a relevant problem to be working on given the current disarray evident in buying PPE. Can you share how you used what you learned from working with nonprofits to address the scale of demands for COVID-19?
Well, when COVID-19 hit, the problems we had been working on with nonprofits were showcased on a global stage. In April, we dropped everything we were doing and in one week built and launched a product from the ground up to help healthcare providers automate the procurement process and safely purchase PPE.
And you mentioned that in addition to healthcare providers, you have also been able to help other types of organizations.
While our primary focus has always been to make sure critical medical supplies are getting to frontline workers, we’ve been spending the last month preparing to supply PPE to essential workforces that are now opening or planning to open, for example, in non-medical environments that nevertheless need PPE to safely operate (such as restaurants and schools).
Do you see Response evolving beyond the near-term demand for PPE?
Tackling COVID-19 has allowed us to demonstrate the value of a platform like Response and while PPE will definitely be an essential part of our lives for the next one to two years, we already have people requesting to use Response for products beyond the ones we support today.
Any comments to share with the Cornell CS community?
I just want to say that we’re incredibly grateful for the support of Cornell and Cornell alums throughout the years. From attending eLab or Life Changing Labs to receiving fellowship grants from the Becks, Andy Kessler, and the Pao family, the support has been overwhelming. Within the CIS community, we’ll always be thankful for the support and encouragement we’ve received from Greg Morrisett, Kavita Bala, Phoebe Sengers, and Gilly Leshed.
Stay tuned for further updates as Response navigates the process of founding a company in the midst of a global pandemic.