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'Making a pretty big impact.' Richmond-based manufacturer expands operations to reduce waste, pollution and cost in the laboratory industry
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'Making a pretty big impact.' Richmond-based manufacturer expands operations to reduce waste, pollution and cost in the laboratory industry

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Ali Safavi, CEO of Grenova Inc., talks about his company and new product, TipNovus, an automated sterilization machine.

Seven years after its founding as a startup business in Richmond, Grenova Inc. has moved into a new phase of development as a company.

“We have been growing quite significantly,” said Ali Safavi, the founder and CEO of Grenova, which has a mission to reduce waste, pollution and costs in the global laboratory industry.

Grenova, which stands for Green Innovation, announced plans in April to relocate its operations from a 10,000-square-foot facility in the Manchester area of South Richmond to a 35,000-square-foot building at 1900 Ellen Road just north of Scott’s Addition.

The company also announced plans to invest $10.6 million to expand its production and hire 250 people over the next three years.

The newly renovated facility — formerly occupied by Sampson Coatings Inc. — is now operating as Grenova’s main office, research and development and manufacturing facility, with more than 60 employees.

Grenova designs and manufactures equipment that health care businesses, universities and government agencies can install in their laboratories to wash and sterilize plastic pipette tips, the small tools used to transfer samples in medical diagnostic tests and research projects such as drug development.

Grenova’s goal from the start has been to reduce the billions of pounds of plastic pipette tips that are discarded after one use and end up in landfills.

“About every two and a half years, we have tripled our footprint,” said Safavi, noting that the company started in 2014 in a 3,200-square-foot office in Midlothian before moving to Manchester and now to the site on Ellen Road.

At the new facility, the company can make up to 2,800 cleaning and sterilization units per year, per work shift, Safavi said. That’s up from a capacity of just a few hundred units at its previous location.

The COVID-19 pandemic has helped propel demand for Grenova’s sterilization equipment, he said, both because of higher demand for laboratory tests and because supply chain disruptions have made it harder and more expensive for laboratories to get plastics such as pipette tips.

“We have over 300 customers worldwide now,” said Safavi, who worked for seven years for a laboratory automation company in North Carolina before moving to Richmond to start Grenova in 2014.

“Some of these customers have more than one lab,” he said. “Some might have 20 or 30 different labs. We are talking about clinical labs, government labs, genomics labs, hospitals and universities.”

“One thing I have seen in the last six months is we have started to have significant growth in the pharmaceutical and academic area,” he said. “That proves the model for our technology is being accepted.”

“Pharmaceuticals have a high standard of regulation,” he said. “For us to see significant growth in that industry shows that we are meeting their standards. They are accepting our technology not just as something to be evaluated, but this is going to be the new standard moving forward.”

Over the past few months, the company also introduced several new products. Those include the Automated TipNovus equipment, which expands upon the company’s flagship TipNovus cleaning tool by enabling laboratories to further automate the sterilization of pipette tips.

In September, the company also introduced a new cleaning tool called Purus by Grenova. That device is designed to help labs further reduce plastic waste by washing and sterilizing the microwell plates that are typically used in laboratory work. Purus removes chemical and biological contaminants from 96 well plates at a time so they can be reused.

“As many pipette tips that being used in labs, there is almost an equal number of plates that are being used, as well,” Safavi said. “They are two of the largest uses of plastics in a laboratory setting. They are very costly for a lab, and now with supply-chain shortages, it has been challenging for labs to be able to receive these consumables.”

In the new facility, Grenova also has opened a research and development lab.

“Our goal is to be able to introduce multiple new products every couple of quarters into the market,” Safavi said.

“Since the company started, we have been an engineering and manufacturing company and we relied on our customers for more of the scientific evaluation,” he said.

“Now, we are expanding our capabilities and we have created this new team, our core competency team,” he said. “We are building a true scientific team to work with our engineers and our manufacturing and be able to produce [scientific] data and close the gap with our customers, who are scientists.”

Grenova’s products have now washed more than 900 million pipette tips, keeping them out of landfills.

“Is it enough? — to me, no,” Safavi said. “But we are on a path and it is growing, so we are making a pretty big impact.”

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