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Exclusive: Smart PPE provider Medu heads to US with $4M seed

Erin Brodwin
Aug 30, 2022
Illustration of scrubs on a hanger with a dollar bill overlay
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Mexico City-based medical equipment provider Medu raised $4 million as it expands to the U.S., CEO Tamara Chayo tells Axios exclusively.

Why it matters: With pandemic-era supply chain shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) mostly resolved, Medu aims to prevent a future disaster and curb waste with its reusable garments.

  • Medu, which is currently pursuing regulatory approvals, expects to raise its Series A next March, Chayo says.

Deal details: MaC Venture Capital led the round. Halcyon Fund and individual backer Ryan Shea participated.

  • Medu will use funds to ramp up production of its full-body protective suit and hire six to seven more people.

How it works: Medu's garments are embedded with near-field communication (NFC) technology — the same kind of short-range wireless tech used to authenticate credit cards.

  • Caregivers use a corresponding app to see how many times a gown has been washed, and after 50 wears, they're instructed to return it to Medu, where it's disinfected and recycled into nurses' scrubs and packaging.
  • Medu says its garments provide the highest fluid and microbial barrier protection available to guard against particles, viruses and bacteria.

What's next: Medu is pursuing FDA approval as a Class II medical device and aims to partner with 15 hospitals across the U.S. by year's end.

  • It also hopes to replace roughly 20 million single-use PPE gowns with its garments, which it says will stop 6,000 tons of waste from entering landfills or incinerators.
  • "Our mission is to create a greener movement for health care, starting with gowns," says Chayo.

The backstory: Chayo, who has family in the medical and textile industries, watched as relatives in frontline care rushed to their jobs in trash bags at the height of the pandemic.

  • She launched Medu in Mexico during the peak of COVID-19 and has so far distributed some 6,000 PPE garments.
  • Later last year she became a Thiel fellow as part of the billionaire's competitive young student program, which provides each fellow with $100,000 over two years.

State of play: The PPE shortages that plagued healthcare systems throughout the pandemic demonstrated a need for innovation in the medical garment sector — and a number of startups stepped up to the plate. For example:

  • Jaanuu in January collected $75 million in Series B funding for its antimicrobial medical garments, bringing total funding to $100 million.
  • $3.6 nillion antimicrobial and fitted scrubs brand Figs (Nyse: Figs) raised $580.5 million in its IPO last summer and this March added executives from Procter & Gamble, Credit Karma and Amazon to its board.

Yes, and: Medu could be an acquisition target for large medical supply incumbents such as 3M and Honeywell, says MaC Venture managing partner Michael Palank.

  • "Hospitals may know they went through 100,000 pairs of gloves, but they generally don’t know why," Palank says.
  • Medu's garments would let them "get a lot of granularity for budgeting and distributing," he adds.

The intrigue: Palank sees gowns as a kind of Trojan horse for Medu, whose deeper potential may lie in its ability to get its software into hospitals.

  • "Disposable gowns are a pain point — they generate a lot of waste and cost. So these liquid-repellent, virus-resistant, reusable fabric — that helps you get in with those decision makers. Selling gowns is a much shorter sales cycle than selling tech," says Palank.
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