It comes as no surprise that as the U.S. grapples with the coronavirus, entrepreneurs are stepping up and offering their assistance. That includes Julia Cheek, founder of the Austin-based direct-to-consumer testing service Everlywell.
On March 22, Everlywell announced it would start selling its initial supply of 30,000 at-home Covid-19 tests to health care companies starting this week. And while Cheek says her hope is to make the tests available to regular consumers, a new ruling from the Food and Drug Administration put that plan on ice.
The agency posted an advisory on March 23, alerting the public to the potential for fraudulent at-home Covid-19 test kits. It noted that the FDA has not authorized any test that is available to purchase for at-home testing of the virus and that the FDA is actively working with test developers in this space. Everlywell is one of the companies that the FDA is working with, the company says.
Even so, the entrepreneur remains committed to the endeavor. Cheek's decision came after hearing pleas for more high-speed tests from hospital systems, health care providers, and the White House--so they can test their employees who are on the front lines of the pandemic. Broadening it out to meet the needs of non-health workers just makes sense.
"We believe that getting diagnosed for Covid-19 at home can be an integral part of a coordinated national strategy to flatten the curve: symptomatic individuals can find answers without leaving their homes, and overburdened clinics and hospitals can prioritize resources for those who need urgent care," Cheek said in a statement to Inc.
For the time being, health care companies will pay for the tests, which cost $135 each, and give them to their employees for free. Only people who are experiencing symptoms or who had direct exposure to the coronavirus are eligible, according to the Everlywell. Everlywell's telehealth partner PWNHealth reportedly sends the nose swab tests to the lab and results are available online within a few days.
To be sure, an at-home Covid-19 test kit is not a departure for Everlywell. Its catalog includes tests for food sensitivity and STDs, as well as vitamins. Cheek launched the business out of beta in 2015 and sold $20 million in testing kits three years later. She projected to pass $50 million in sales in 2019 and to become profitable in 2020, according to an Inc. article from last year. What's more, she's raised more than $10 million in venture capital and scored a $1 million line of credit from Shark Tank's Lori Greiner in exchange for 8 percent in equity.