In February 2008, Atlanta-based company WETKEYS Washable Keyboards launched with five of its own products for use in the medical equipment and industrial process control industries, and quickly attracted attention from six of the world’s leading manufacturers of washable data entry devices. Within a three-month window, WETKEYS moved from being solely a designer and manufacturer of these products to also being a retailer when it began selling other manufacturers’ products through its online store WETKEYS.com.
Today WETKEYS.com offers the widest selection of completely sealed, washable keyboards and computer mice available on the Internet. These products – completely spill-proof, germ-resistant, and food, dust and contaminant proof – are designed specifically for use in labs and other health care or food safety applications. With WETKEYS washable products, businesses can replace their standard keyboards and mice to maintain a healthier workspace and reduce the spread of germs.
The company began with two founders: David Malo, current acting COO, and Paul Lawrence, director of design and marketing. Malo has extensive experience in technology deployment across large companies such as video-on-demand services and infrastructure for COMCAST Cable, Liberty Media and UPC of Europe. Lawrence has been a real estate developer with experience in architecture and product design. Both came together to create the products, online store and company infrastructure after they spent nearly a month in China sourcing the parts and an OEM manufacturer to produce their products.
Their first wireless version of a keyboard and mouse were named as one of the Top 10 Tech Gifts of 2008 by CNBC’s technology reporter Jim Goldman. However, WETKEYS’ notoriety was not translating into sales, so the management team sought assistance from the Advanced Technology Development Center, Georgia Tech’s startup accelerator that helps Georgia technology entrepreneurs launch and build successful companies.
“We joined ATDC in October 2009, soon after ATDC opened its membership to all technology entrepreneurs in Georgia, from those at the earliest conception stage to the well-established, venture fundable companies,” said Lawrence. “I like to think of us as the new generation of ATDC company because when we joined we were already selling viable products, unlike many traditional ATDC startup companies in concept stage.”
According to Lawrence, WETKEYS needed to find a broader distribution for its products rather than relying solely on its online store, and this is where ATDC has been helpful. WETKEYS exhibited at the ATDC Showcase in April and immediately connected with other companies that have offered to assist. J.J. Roberts and Bill Kunz, volunteer sales mentors at ATDC, have also been instrumental in helping WETKEYS identify new customers and refine its selling approach. In addition, Tom Larkin of Georgia Tech’s Procurement Assistance Center (GTPAC) has assisted with navigating the intricacies of government contracting, and is directing the company on how to become registered to do business with various U.S. government agencies including the Navy and VA Hospital system.
WETKEYS has added four employees since it joined ATDC and has more than doubled its sales. Lawrence said he expects to have a new product designed every quarter including its most recent introduction of rechargeable Bluetooth wireless keyboards compatible with Android and iPad/iPhone4 portable devices. WETKEYS products are currently being used by the U.S. Navy, Harvard Medical School, Purdue University, Quest Diagnostics, Georgia-Pacific, Coca-Cola, Walt Disney Animation, Westinghouse Nuclear Electric, among others.
“There is a tremendous amount of assistance and resources in ATDC that you just don’t get in commercial competition,” Lawrence noted. “The level of motivation jumps dramatically when you are around other companies in similar situations.”
Moving forward, the company’s distribution strategy will be in channel sales. WETKEYS recently entered into international distribution agreements with established health care IT distributors in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Its latest keyboard design has been deployed into three major hospital systems in those countries.
Although the company is not quite ready to seek venture funding, Lawrence said they will welcome ATDC’s expertise in grants and funding. In particular, WETKEYS expects to tap into some of the $1.9 billion set aside by the U.S. government for electronic health records implementation.