From ultra-sanitizing workspaces to improving virtual connectivity, Springfield-area entrepreneurs are actively responding to pandemic conditions head on.
By Catherine O’Connor
A local business founded only two years ago by buddies Kirk Kellus and Jon Roe, who first met in college, Clean Impact hit its stride at just the right moment. The company, which began in March 2018 as a start-up member of Innovate Springfield, is a product of the business incubator, which is now affiliated with the University of Illinois Springfield.
Kellus and Roe have seen a drastic growth in business in the past 18 months. Armed with high-tech, electrostatic sanitizing equipment, they have been using the UV light process to remove bacteria and viruses, with sanitizing solution that has very high kill rates for influenza and Coronavirus, even before the crisis hit, according to Kellus.
“Electrostatics is a powerful, cutting-edge tool that negatively charges fluid and sprays it out 10,000 particulates per square inch, so it wraps around positive surfaces such as chair legs, door knobs, pencil holders and even gets inside computer keyboards to annihilate viruses and bacteria,” Kellus said.
Clean Impact currently serves 32 clients at 10 commercial and industrial locations, primarily in Sangamon County, and Kellus said the company is experiencing increasing demand. However, getting additional electrostatic machines, which cost tens of thousands of dollars and are currently on backorder nationwide, is on hold.
Starting with just eight employees, the company had grown steadily to 48 team members prior to the COVID 19 pandemic. Since then, the company has not stopped recruiting and now hires staff members on a weekly basis.
As someone who loves using technology to increase efficiencies, Kellus has designed a virtual quality-control checklist app to communicate internally and externally with customers in real-time.
“I have deep admiration for the medical community, and our cleaning team is on the ground level. We are critical to helping keep employees and their families safe from biohazards and preventing the spread of health crises now and in the future,” Kellus said.
Mark Roberts, founder of website development company GoWeb1, came up with a way to use his expertise to help other small businesses and organizations adapt to the governor’s stay-at-home directive. He and a couple fellow software developers worked for 48 hours straight in late March to build SpringfieldZoom.com on the Alerts Made Easy platform.
Roberts donated the time and expertise to create the website, which works in coordination with local economic development groups in Springfield and Sangamon County to consolidate business information and communication alerts. The public can find out the current status of local businesses and services in one, easily searchable place, including the current hours of operation and whether they can drive through or pickup, take-out or order for delivery, etc.
Any Sangamon county business can create a free account on SpringfieldZoom.com by clicking on “Register My Business” to get started.
“One feature that was recently added was the option for businesses to add gift card purchases to their SpringfieldZoom page, which links to their merchant site,” Roberts said.
Aside from improving communications during a pandemic, local governments and schools use the Alerts Made Easy system to broadcast changes in event schedules, water main breaks and the latest security bulletins to provide real-time information.
“The system flexibility allows users to turn on and off functions, to communicate with selected lists of thousands of users via voice call, text, email and instant website notifications,” explained Roberts.
Beyond that, Alerts Made Easy offers functions that allow for internal communications, such as notifying members or employees of the need for extra hours, tasks or schedule updates. A unique feature is the ability for users to communicate with one-way routine messages, but also connect with real-time interactive group meeting software that integrates through HR systems and other entities.
Social distancing guidelines that have shuttered some area businesses and offices have meant an almost 50% increase in recycling, upgrading and repair services, according to Brian Dickerson of BLH Computers.
With 25 employees in three locations — Jacksonville, Taylorville and Springfield — BLH is the region’s largest recycler of computer electronics. The company is currently processing 100,000 pounds per week of assorted computer pieces that get dropped off, a byproduct of people using their extra time during home quarantine to clean out garages and basements.
Dickerson said, “Recycling is especially important during the economic shutdown because we can recycle and return these valuable components into the supply stream to provide material for the manufacturing sector.”
BLH specializes in lower-cost and preowned equipment and has seen an uptick in sales for reconditioned equipment and repair services, to families who are now working and learning at home.
“Like other retail businesses, we have changed our model to allow only two people in the store at any one time. And we have one employee whose sole job it is to wipe off every surface in the store, every hour,” Dickerson said. In addition, following COVID guidelines means that all items brought into the store for repair are disinfected with anti-virus wipes, and all equipment dropped off at the recycling dock remains outside for one week before being processed.
The employees are practicing social distancing as their team communicates virtually to do virus removal, repair and software upgrades to systems, both remotely and in the stores. If on-site installation or repair is needed, BLH has partnered with Tech2Door, a Springfield company that provides equipment pickup and delivery as well as in-home or office trouble-shooting, training and repair.
Tech2Door, a Springfield company with three full-time and one part-time employee, was established by Dave Eiter to provide on-site technical support to individuals or busiensses. Their service model is a local version of what is commonly known as a “geek squad,” delivering all services at the customer’s site. They offer setup and proper wiring of devices, on-the-spot diagnosis and repair, as well as group or one-on-one tutoring — with written instructions if needed — for customers on how to use and enjoy their equipment and technology.
According to Eiter, the business solutions side is a large component of the company’s revenue, but the COVID-19 shutdown has delayed or cancelled some ongoing technology projects. “Some of these businesses owe us money, and we don’t even know when or if they will re-open,” he said.
However, for others, Tech2Door is providing a temporary stop-gap, with the idea of transitioning back to normal office functions after the crisis ends. “We have been called in to set up employees who used to work in offices and now need to conduct business remotely, including clients in the insurance industry and state government sector,” Eiter explained.
Tech2Door also works with many seniors, who are now finding themselves trying to quickly adapt to technology that may not have previously been a necessity. From Either’s viewpoint, seniors may have a lot of fear using new technologies, whereas younger people in the business community are more fearful of the difficult financial hardship of this epidemic.
“We work with a lot of seniors in their homes and at living facilities or rehab centers. So, we wear masks and gloves and use hand sanitizer each time we get in and out of vehicles and locations,” Eiter said. For other seniors who need real-time, live help but are not yet experienced at virtual meetings, phone calls have replaced face-to-face training.
Tech2Door has also seen a surge in its home security camera system installation services. “There is definitely more concern for the investments in additional computers and equipment that both small business and residential clients have made,” said Eiter.
Catherine O’Connor is an open desk member of Innovate Springfield, working to launch a strategic communications business specializing in reviving and refreshing messaging content to strengthen meaning and results.