Gravity Diagnostics hired hundreds in Covington to keep up with testing demand.
Gravity Diagnostics grew to about 500 total employees in a matter of months.
Gravity Diagnostics was a small lab, launched in 2015, and struggling to turn a profit.
When the Covid-19 virus emerged in China, the company leadership anticipated that this new germ would be highly contagious. They might be able to put the small lab's analytical skills and health care connections to work to fight the virus, and improve the bottom line.
Their foresight and quick action paid off.
Revenue in one year grew 3,000% as the company in short order won contracts with hospitals, state governments, schools, universities, and retailers who urgently needed help processing the rapidly growing number of Covid tests. Employment grew from a handful of people at the beginning to 450; walls had to be knocked down in its Russell Street workspace to create more room.
Gravity Diagnostics became one of the fastest-growing businesses in the region.
So after a year like that, what do you do for an encore?
As the need for rapid testing diminishes with the easing of the pandemic, Gravity CEO Tony Remington is realistic about sustaining such phenomenal growth.
“From a revenue point of view, as Covid goes away, it’s not pretty,” he says. “It’s not a spreadsheet or a chart I’d want to show somebody.”
But the company has been preparing for the end of the pandemic, and has a plan to keep growing.
“We’ve been looking at this for 12 months,” Remington says.
Gravity has created three business units, with one devoted to personal testing and health care, which Remington says holds promise. He calls it “consumer-initiated testing,” and it includes telemedicine, home testing, apps, wearables, and other products designed to improve prevention and personal wellness.
“This is a whole new business unit that we’re heavily investing in,” he says.
One of its early products is its GetMyDNA Covid-19 home testing kit. Earlier this month, the company announced that the kit had been authorized to be sold in retail stores and in bulk.
“Our intention was always that home-testing solutions and telemedicine would have an important place in the future of health care,” says Julie Brazil, co-founder and chief operating officer. “This is just the beginning of what we foresee GetMyDNA being able to do for consumers in all 50 states,” she says.
The kit costs $99 and is shipped overnight at no extra charge to the home. Equipment for a nasal swab, step-by-step instructions, and a link to an instructional video are included. Overnight return shipping is included, and the company says the results are available in days.
The company established another business unit called Gravity Direct, which will create partnerships with school, universities, and private employers to quickly process Covid tests.
The administration at Fort Thomas Schools, for example, was trying to cope with absenteeism on the part of students, teachers and substitute teachers. They partnered during the school year with Gravity Diagnostics to get Covid tests back faster, within 24 hours, reducing the time that the infection could spread, cutting down on absences, and providing more stability.
“This allowed us to determine who needed to be quarantined, seek an alternate diagnosis, or determine who could return to our buildings,” says Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Jamee Flaherty.
Although the need for Covid testing is not as pressing as a year ago, it still remains. Gravity is currently working with the state of Kentucky to handle Covid drive-through testing, including at a site on West Fourth Street in Covington. You stay in the car and administer your own nasal swab, with help from a Gravity Diagnostics staffer if necessary, and the results are processed and reported back the same day.
Remington has hired a former Procter & Gamble senior brand manager to help find new opportunities for growth. He’s also hired 50 sales people, and formed a team to focus on opportunities for non-Covid testing.
Although revenue may drop this year as the extraordinary demand for Covid testing declines, “We feel we can come out on the other side stronger than ever,” Remington says. “We feel good about our business plan.”
Gravity Diagnostics arrived in Covington six years ago when Remington and Brazil bought the assets of a company called Molecular Diagnostics. Before that, their company was a health care equipment distributor network and sales and marketing group.
“We realized if we didn’t own a lab, we couldn’t control our future,” Remington says. “If you don’t manufacture the product, you’re always at risk of a third party impacting your brand or your reputation, or your quality.”
The company lost nearly $10 million over the first four or five years until the pandemic struck. By then, the company had established relationships with health care providers, public health departments, and universities in the region and beyond. As a lean startup, the company was able to respond much more quickly than bigger, older competitors to the need for testing, which accelerated almost overnight.
“The big hospital labs, government labs, they're amazing organizations, but they’re very bureaucratic,” Remington says. “They just didn‘t have the space, they didn’t have the mentality, they didn’t have the entreprenurship. They couldn’t just make a decision in five minutes.”
Its first customer for analyzing Covid-19 tests was St. Elizabeth Healthcare, which has its own diagnostic lab but couldn’t keep up with the demand. Eleven samples were processed on the first day. That number eventually grew to more than 25,000 samples a day.
Its location in this market helped serve its growth. “Being in Covington and being in the Cincinnati area, we were in a market that needed us,” Remington says. “If we were in a Boston or Chicago, or San Francisco, there might have been 10 Gravitys.”
The company that started with about a dozen employees grew to nearly 500 in a matter of months, including 300 in Covington. It’s 5,000 square feet of space at The Warehouse office and lab space in Covington was able to grow to 7,000, then it needed much larger quarters, which it found at 812 Russell Street. It’s in the process of consolidating its operations to 70,000 square feet there, Remington said.