By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Russell “Russ” Hubbard’s professional journey started in the investment community, included tours of duty with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and now involves leading a Kingsport-based start-up focused on human temperature management with a particular interest in military personnel.
Any entrepreneur wants to feel that his or her invention or product makes a difference. In Hubbard’s case, he knows his Emergency Rapid Evaporative Cooling System (E-RECS) has, saving at least one life already at the Army’s Sniper School in Fort Benning, GA.
“We serviced our first order from the Army this past May,” Hubbard said. “They told us the following week they needed a whole lot more of our kits.”
Since then, it’s been a marathon for the service-disabled veteran as he’s tried to quickly ramp-up staffing, production, sales and distribution at for Per Vivo Labs, the company he founded in his native Kingsport less than 18 months ago. “I quickly recognized the need to build a solid team and we have”.
Hubbard attended West Virginia University and became an investment broker and financial analyst after graduation. He rose to a Vice President position with UBS before deciding on a radically different career.
In 2005, Hubbard quit his UBS job and entered the Army, motivated by the impact of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. He said he kept thinking there was something he could do and, perhaps more important, needed to do to help his country.
After tours of duty in two combat zones where he earned 14 medals, including the prestigious Bronze Star and Defense Meritorious Service awards, the Kingsport native decided to return home.
“I always had this strong desire to build a business from the ground up,” he explained. So, he identified several problems, designed simple solutions and launched Pro Vivo Labs.
One of the more interesting aspects of Hubbard’s new company is the fact that it draws on his two previous careers. As an investment broker, he had been involved with several start-ups and private equity, particularly in the medical field.
“This venture (Per Vivo Labs) has been 100 percent self-funded,” Hubbard proudly notes.
During his Army career, Per Vivo Labs’ President and Founder clearly saw the impact of heat stroke on individuals and the need for better treatment options.
“The (existing) protocols were ad hoc at best, subject to human error, and really immobile,” Hubbard said, noting that many relied on the availability of ice. As a result, death was frequently the outcome of heat stroke and exhaustion.
The need for an alternative extended beyond the battle field to athletic fields, playgrounds and any location where Exertional Heat Illness is a possibility.
“A person is not going to have a heat stroke next to a bag of ice,” Hubbard added. So, he decided to develop a protocol that was much lighter than existing options, so it would be portable. And, the device needed to reduce the human error factor and have the same or more efficacy than existing protocols.
“Through trial and error, we came-up with our first solution,” he said. “We realized we could continue to make it better, and we have.”
Today, Per Vivo Labs has a family of products under the E-RECS brand name. They now have two therapies that combine evaporative, convection and conduction cooling protocols into a single, simple, and cost-effective solution.
Less than two years into the new company, Hubbard says all of the production is currently being done in-house. He’s looking for a production facility and expects to outsource one component.
What was a one-person operation has grown to four employees, and recruitment of a Production Manager is underway. Per Vivo Labs has also entered an agreement with a firm specializing in sales to help it grow more quickly.
“It gives us the ability to really scale our sales,” Hubbard says.