Thanks to an entrepreneurial doctor, a recently relocated startup has brought to the market a new kind of face mask that protects wearers from airborne pathogens like COVID-19.
JustAir, Inc. has launched its patented advanced face mask system that uses a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) in a more portable version of what’s used in medical or industrial grade systems. The mask protects both the wearer and surrounding people, filtering the user’s inhaled and exhaled air.
The face mask is made of electrostatic felt and two fabric layers and can be adjusted to fit your face. A small rechargeable, battery-powered blower supplies fresh, cool air to the mask. The positive pressure airflow technology pushes air through a medical-grade HEPA filter that traps 99.97 percent of viruses, allergens, and smoke, running up to 12 hours on a single charge.
The cool air pumped into JustAir’s powered mask also prevents the fogged glasses and sweaty faces from wearing only a fabric or disposable face mask for long periods.
“JustAir provides the same type of personal protection but without the suit or the helmet associated with industrial PAPRs,” said Dan Burnett, JustAir’s CEO. “The system provides a continuous supply of filtered air to the user, minimizing the accumulation of carbon dioxide from exhaled breath.”
The medical device company offers its consumer version for $249.
After moving to San Antonio in 2020, JustAir launched its operations in September from leased space within the Shavano Park facility run by Fountainhead Investment Partners, a San Antonio-based venture capital and private equity firm. The building also houses Fountainhead’s Watershed Idea Foundry, created to incubate innovative biomedical entrepreneurs, and Nvision Biomedical Technologies, a medical device and implant manufacturer.
Fountainhead Investment Partners uses its new headquarters space to help relocating companies establish roots in San Antonio’s bioscience sector. Burnett leases their manufacturing and lab space and accesses their prototyping equipment.
“We see great potential for growing San Antonio through the biomedical space and are trying to do our part in the community’s ecosystem to fuel this growth,” said managing Fountainhead partner and Nvision CEO Brian Kieser.
Burnett is a doctor with an engineering background who also has an MBA degree. He has a long history of biomedical device innovation, holding 10 issued patents and over 60 patents pending other biomedical innovations. He recently joined the University of California San Francisco as an entrepreneur in residence and as adjunct faculty in their bioengineering department.
JustAir is the 14th company to spin out from TheraNova Medical Device Innovations, a medical device incubator based in San Francisco. Burnett founded the incubator in 2006 and serves as president and CEO of both the incubator and JustAir.
Burnett initially started TheraNova as an intellectual property-holding company. When he started his first company, he had many ideas but needed to focus on bringing one idea to the market at a time. The medical innovations commercialized by TheraNova’s 14 companies include ones focused on obesity, liver failure, migraines, and overactive bladders, plus new designs for a urinary catheter, a feeding tube, a remote patient monitor, and a vascular catheter.
TheraNova collectively has raised over $375 million for its 14 medical device companies that collectively have been issued 57 patents worldwide, with an additional 180 pending.
The 2005 SARS epidemic led to the creation of the JustAir mask
Burnett had first prototyped and patented his idea for a more portable face mask respirator system during the SARS outbreak in 2005. He was traveling to China to research a deal for potential investment.
“I was worried about flying to Beijing, so I wanted to protect myself,” he said.
Burnett filed a patent in 2007, finalizing it by 2009. Thoughts of commercializing the advanced system didn’t re-emerge until the California fires in 2019 and again in 2020 caused poor air quality from the smoke.
He was developing the face mask system when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020.
Long-term connections led to JustAir launching in San Antonio
Burnett started looking 13 years ago for “patient-friendly investment capital,” which took him to Dallas. Those investors introduced him to investors in San Antonio, like Alan Chesler, who decided to invest in JustAir. Chesler, in turn, connected Burnett to Ed Davis.
Davis, York Duncan, and Dan Costello, who launched DavisDuncan LLC, a San Antonio-centric economic development consulting firm, worked with Fountainhead Investment Partners to recruit JustAir to San Antonio.
“We’ve been working with them for about 10 years,” Davis said. “Dr. Jose Salinas at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research connected us once the pandemic hit.”
After discussions with investors, Burnett agreed that it was time for a $1M Series A round of funding to launch the company quickly. In less than four months, JustAir had a product ready for the market.
“I did research with Dr. Salinas, so it was lots of different small connections that brought me here,” Burnett said. “I decided to make this [JustAir] a Texas company and base it out of San Antonio. I like the way people do business here.”
JustAir plans for bridge funding, a frontline worker mask model
The consumer model was designed to protect wearers during travel or other crowded settings where social distancing isn’t feasible. The company plans to debut sometime in early 2021 a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or NIOSH-approved healthcare provider version with higher airflow for $599. The advanced model targets the more than 16 million frontline essential healthcare workers and costs less than half the medical-industry PAPR system price.
Burnett is now raising $1 million in bridge funding to get the company to its Series B round.
“This is a product that will be useful, especially for health care workers, even after Covid-19 infections subside,” Burnett said.
JustAir plans to create at least 20 jobs over its first two years of operations. The startup employs seven and is hiring assemblers, a mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer, and software developers.
Hopes run high for the innovation-driven founder’s presence in San Antonio.
“We anticipate JustAir being the first of many more innovative TheraNova spinout medical device companies that will choose to locate in San Antonio,” Davis said.