Canyon Ventures startup develops COVID-19 test
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Not only was i-calQ one of the original startups to inhabit Canyon Ventures after it opened last August.
It also was one of 30 finalists chosen for the BIO Start-Up Stadium virtual competition this month and bills itself as “the world’s first smartphone-based, quantitative, point-of-care, integrated diagnosis solution.”
And it promises a test result in 10 minutes.
Pamela Turbeville, founder of i-calQ, credits Canyon Ventures Director Robert Vera for helping her reach this point.
“Robert is like a secret weapon,” she said. “When I was offered office space and met Robert, I thought, ‘This guy is smart, connected, business savvy.’ He’s the heart of Canyon Ventures.”
Vera had learned of i-calQ because one of his friends is an investor. He was impressed by Turbeville as soon as he met her, which made it easy to become what he calls “essentially her salesperson.”
He’s also her recruiter. Not long after Turbeville took up residence last August in Canyon Ventures, which offers free rent and other benefits to startups in return for hiring GCU students, Vera hooked her up with Scott Marshall, who had graduated from the University the previous April with a bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering.
Marshall is better known around campus for scaling other heights: As a pole vaulter on the track and field team, he was the first GCU athlete to compete in a Division I championship.
As a senior in 2018, he finished 13th at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships to be on the All-America second team and 20th at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships to be an All-America honorable mention. He holds the GCU records for the indoor and outdoor pole vault.
He’s training in the hope of qualifying for the U.S. team in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which have been postponed until 2021, and working for Turbeville has been the perfect fit.
“She’s the best person I could ever work for right now,” he said. “She’s got a lot of family, she’s got a sports background (her family has professional athletes in baseball and surfing and two nationally ranked junior snowboarders). So she has a much better understanding of the time commitment it takes.
“She’s very flexible. She understands that my schedule is going to be up in the air most days.”
A typical day for Marshall, besides working out, includes updating the i-calQ website, writing instructions, doing tests and fulfilling whatever else is needed.
“During my courses, we joked about biomedical engineering being the jack of all trades,” he said. “I can do basically anything that you need that’s biology, chemistry, more science-y. I can design things. In layman’s terms, it’s designing tests and devices for use in health care.”
Turbeville also hired for a part-time job another GCU student, Jarrett Griebeler, who showed his moxie when he was working with the company on a project.
“The quality, the dedication, the intelligence of the GCU students has been great,” Turbeville said.
The i-calQ test, which is pending Food and Drug Administration approval, takes blood drawn from a finger and puts it on a test strip, which then is photographed by the cellphone camera and analyzed by the i-calQ application. It can test for a variety of health information, including the presence of COVID-19.
But there’s an important difference from many tests: i-calQ doesn’t just provide a yes/no answer; it also quantifies the number of antibodies in the person’s system.
“We’re a lot different than other point-of-care tests,” Turbeville said.
The fact that it can be done in 10 minutes is something Vera considers “a game-changer.” He likens the test to a “windshield” (tells patients whether they currently have the virus) and “rearview mirror” (informs them if they have been exposed and have COVID-19 antibodies).
“They’re making your cellphone a laboratory,” he said. “When we were growing up, you took a picture in your camera, you took out the film, you took it to a laboratory and they developed it. This is kind of the equivalent, only you don’t need to go to a lab to get your medical tests done. You can do it over the phone.”
It is being considered for use on students and staff during the 2020-21 academic year. Connie Colbert, Director of the Canyon Health and Wellness Center, said, “The health center will be working alongside i-calQ this summer to help validate their tool in hopes that we can utilize it as a resource in the near future.”
Turbeville, whose company was featured in this City of Phoenix story, has utilized several of the advantages Canyon Ventures provides: She hired GCU students. She learned from Kevin Youngblood’s Revenue Generation Academy. Her business was pitched at a recent Canyon Angels event.
She has been an important member of the culture created by the earliest Canyon Ventures occupants.
“We’ve been so fortunate to have an incredible group of founders who really work hard, are committed, have great values and hire our students,” Vera said. “They acknowledge what GCU has done for them. They’re very grateful to have GCU behind them.
“If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve got to go to GCU.”
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].