Jersey City AR/AI Startup Apprentice Helps Pharma Keep Working during COVID-19 Response

As Angelo Stracquatanio III, Apprentice’s cofounder and CEO, tells it, the first sign that pharma companies would need more access to the Jersey City startup’s product came in January, when he had to cancel a trip to China.

“We saw very early on that this was going to have a much broader impact than what folks were reporting,” he told us.

Apprentice, which provides an intelligent software platform to pharma companies, noticed that its customers were first canceling international travel, then domestic travel; and, finally, they were no longer allowing their employees to come to work at their local facilities.

Pharma companies have offices and labs all over the world, Stracquatanio pointed out. When they stopped all travel, both domestic and foreign, the global supply chain began to grind to a halt. This happened “because now you can’t get vendors in to help troubleshoot or subject matter experts to fly in to help collaborate with their colleagues” on such things as “how do we ensure that we produce this job correctly?

“It’s a fairly scary situation because if these facilities can’t continue to manufacture, it will lead to worldwide drug shortages. There’s going to be a potential supply chain impact.”

Apprentice’s augmented-reality (AR)/artificial-intelligence (AI) system, called “Tandem,” can be used by organizations on the manufacturing floor, actually next to the equipment that is producing the drugs. “They can use our tool to then collaborate with vendors, subject matter experts, colleagues, engineering supervisors, whatever, who are at home or in another country, or just in a place where they just cannot physically get to the facility,” he explained.

“It’s a fairly scary situation because if these facilities can’t continue to manufacture, it will lead to worldwide drug shortages. There’s going to be a potential supply chain impact.” Angelo Stracquatanio III, Apprentice

When they saw the demand coming, the Apprentice team went into action. “We developed this concept called a ‘rapid deployment kit’ that we ship out to pharma organizations. We have everything pre-configured, preinstalled, pre-everything. And then they simply just turn it on, they get collaborating, and then they can continue to work with their operations team, no matter where they are in the world.”

The kits are customizable and come with the enterprise-ready Tandem platform preloaded onto hands-free, clean-room-compliant, AR smart glasses and accessories. According to an Apprentice release, Tandem is the industry’s only compliant, language-independent solution that breaks the barrier between in-suite and out-of-suite collaboration, enabling troubleshooting and guidance, and ultimately reversing the devastating impact of this virus.

“We’ve seen a huge uptick for this right now. As you can imagine, we’ve shipped devices literally from China to Japan, to South Korea, to every country in Europe at this stage, to help ensure that the supply chain stays open. If it doesn’t, there will be a secondary fallout for all of this that keeps me up at night.”

Seeing “Unprecedented” Demand

Stracquatanio said that Apprentice is shipping these kits to both new and old customers, who have reached out to his company at an “unprecedented rate and scale.”  New customers have come via word of mouth from existing customers, he noted. And, “We’ve had to — very, very quickly as a team — adapt all of our internal tooling to be able to quickly configure for each new customer. So, it’s been a rapid change internally as well because we’ve literally had to build internal software to be able to more efficiently configure these devices and software so that when they go out the door, they’re ready to go for a new customer.”

The team’s ability to act on the opportunity is a hallmark of startups, which are generally much more agile than large companies. “It’s been a lot where we’ve had to adapt internally at like the light-speed to be able to deliver on this to help our customers through this really difficult time.”

The Apprentice team of nearly 50 employees is working seven days a week to fulfill orders. “We finished a call last night at 4 o’clock in the morning. And we’re off again! It’s, it’s insane. We just know that every hour during this crisis counts. The whole team has bought into helping out our customers because we know it touches patients, right? We know that patients rely on those drugs that our customers produce.”

Using Their Own Tool for Remote Communication

Stracquatanio said that that the entire team has been working from home since last week. And how are they working remotely? “We use our own tool. The one that we’re shipping to our customers is the exact same tool we use to collaborate among ourselves all day long.”

Apprentice has what it calls a “community 10” Tandem session going, which is open 24 hours a day right now. “Any member can pop into that session, scream out, you know, ‘Hey what do you think about this?’ This way we can continue the decision-making velocity that we’ve had in the past when we’re in the office, but we can do so just by yelling out to our counterpart on our on our own software on a Tandem session. It’s kind of cool how the team has adapted to it. It’s just kind of a continuation of our culture,” said Stracquatanio.

“We have never seen this level of demand for both the product, as well as the use of the product,” he added. “The demand of selling is one thing. But the usage! We’ve never seen metrics like this before. If I could show you the graph, it’s literally 10 times of what it was just a few days ago. And it’s been exponential growth over the last several weeks.”

Stracquatanio finds it exciting that the companies are using the product successfully. “From our perspective, we’re just trying to do our best to support them during this period because, at the end of the day, it’s about the patient. And if they can’t produce the drug, there’s going to be a lot of people impacted by this,” he said.

“So, we just hope that we can continue to deliver, continue to execute, that our team stays healthy. My biggest worry as CEO is for my team to be healthy. And as long as the team stays healthy, and we keep executing, we’ll help our customers as best as we can, given the crisis.”

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