State's Fastest-Growing Company Manages Covid Ups And Downs

VERONA, Wis. (AP) — The recognition of being the fastest-growing company in Wisconsin will be fleeting for Randy Nagy.

Gentueri, a company he founded in 2012, saw its sales in 2020 grow by an astounding 3,688% to $6.3 million as sales of swabs and testing kits for COVID-19 skyrocketed. But in 2021, company revenues, some of which are derived from the sale of evidence collection kits for law enforcement purposes, are expected to be flat before growing by a projected 50% in 2022 to around $9 million.

Nagy, 63, is spending $1.4 million to upgrade his 10,000-square-foot facility here not to focus on COVID-19 or its variants but to expand his company’s forensics market and plunge the firm into products designed for easy-to-use home testing kits aimed at detecting infectious and genetic diseases and for DNA collection that can be used in ancestry research and in customizing diets and exercise routines.

But what separates Nagy’s products from others is that samples, like cheek or nasal swabs, can be preserved and transported without using a liquid or the need for refrigeration. That means a two-week window in which samples can be sent through the mail in a regular envelope with a 55-cent stamp instead of being shipped in larger packages by express, which increases the cost for patients, health care providers and laboratories, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

The company’s products include smaller, easier to use sexual assault evidence collection kits and other forensic collection devices for the Wisconsin Department of Justice and other law enforcement agencies around the country. But it sees a bigger business in cellulose swabs that can be ejected from their stems for easier processing; small plastic tubes for storing and processing swabs; and GenSwab, an index card-sized system that includes a round, flat foam swab that transfers a DNA sample from the touch of a finger to a long-term, room temperature preservation card.

“As simple as some of things sound, a lot of engineering goes into it,” Nagy said. “All of a sudden, remote sample collection becomes huge in the medical industry and we just happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right knowledge on how to collect the samples and preserve it at room temperature and how to integrate it into the processing of the laboratory in a very simple fashion.”

The sale of COVID-19 testing kits has dropped significantly thanks to states stockpiling kits and lesser demand for testing while China and Korea have created federally approved kits that are less expensive, Nagy said. But the sales in 2020 have helped fuel the expansion at Gentueri, which was cited by Inc. Magazine as the 112th-fastest-growing private company in the U.S. The list of 5000 companies includes 53 from Wisconsin that combined in 2020 to create 2,198 jobs and $1.7 billion in revenue, according to Inc.

“We have the ability to throw the (COVID-19 testing kit production) switch back on at any time,” Nagy said. “We’re not throwing away any of that ability. But in terms of a business decision, it doesn’t make sense for us right now.”

Gentueri — a combination of the word genetics and the Latin word for protection, tueri — was one of 18 Dane County companies to make the Inc list. Others included TheoremReach, a Madison software company that grew by 3,535% and which has created an app that rewards those who take surveys. Fetch Rewards, a Madison company founded in 2013 that has an app to reward shoppers and is now valued at over $1 billion, grew by 1,832% while the ever expanding Octopi Brewing Co. in Waunakee grew by 700% in 2020.

Others include DynaVap in DeForest (449%), Lost Boys Interactive (440%) and Badger Brothers Moving (247), both in Madison, and Middleton’s vChief (201%) and Mercy Dental Group (200%).

Nagy has spent most of his professional career working with DNA. The Canada native spent 12 years with an East Coast-based genetic identification company before moving to Madison in 1997 to work with Promega as a genetic identity section leader. He then spent 10 years with Bode Technology, a DNA processing laboratory in Virginia, helping identify remains from the World Trade Center before working in business sales and development for a handful of companies including the Center for Advanced Forensic DNA Analysis in North Carolina.

In 2012, Nagy went out on his own to form Fast Forward Forensics, a Madison company located in his home basement near Elver Park that specialized in creating simple biological sample collection and preservation devices. In 2018, he renamed the company Gentueri and had three employees and about 2,500 square feet of space with a clean room on Voges Road near the Dane County Humane Society.

Last fall, Nagy moved his company into a Federal Drug Administration-approved facility on Verona’s south side where he now has 33 employees, is hiring more and will likely need to expand next year into an adjacent 7,200-square-foot space. Part of his current expansion includes the addition of a third clean room and installing automation equipment that can assemble 20 swabs per minute. The work is currently being done by hand at a rate of one every 90 seconds per worker.

“This is going to revolutionize what we’re able to do, quite frankly,” Nagy said. “We just keep improving what we’re doing.”

He also has purchased a massive printing machine for labels and other imprints needed on products, has installed a custom air handling system and will be installing a system to specially treat the water used during manufacturing processes.

In addition, he’s working with other companies like Teal Plastics in Baraboo for component parts and Isthmus Engineering on the creation of the automation equipment.

Nagy is waiting on the approval of other patents, one of which includes a non-invasive collection device that won’t require a swab or spit sample and can be stored at room temperature. He’s also working on a national level to push for standardized forensic evidence testing kits.

“We’re not just another collection company you buy on Amazon. We’re innovators,” Nagy said. “We’re trying to understand what the problems are and how to solve them.”