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This Israeli startup raised $53 million for COVID-killing lights: An interview with Juganu CEO Eran Ben-Shmuel

Ivan De Luce 11.19.20

We spoke with the Juganu CEO on how the company aims to use its technology to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Can lights really kill COVID?

They certainly can, provided it’s the right type of light. UVC, a kind of light that contains more energy than other kinds of ultraviolet light, has been proven to inactivate viruses and bacteria. UVC is harmful when exposed directly to people, but its lower-energy counterpart, UVA, isn’t. Ultraviolet light alone won’t stop COVID-19, but it could slow its spread.

Juganu, an Israeli tech startup founded in 2011, is using UVC technology to create a circadian indoor lighting system that it claims can inactivate SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Last month, Juganu raised $18 million in series C funding led by Comcast Ventures. The venture firm’s portfolio includes companies like Lyft, Instacart, and Vox, making its foray into healthtech all the more interesting. To date, Juganu has raised $53 million in venture capital.

But before you start ordering UVC lights by the ton, there are some key points to note: the lights only inactivate viruses when they’re exposed directly to them (including surfaces, air, and liquids), meaning that shadowed surfaces could harbor pathogens. Because UVC is harmful to our skin and eyes when exposed directly, the best use for it is in spaces where people aren’t present. Besides, bathing in the light wouldn’t guarantee getting rid of a virus.

Before the pandemic, Juganu created circadian lighting systems using AI, but never used its technology to fight germs. Its co-founders, Eran Ben-Shmuel and Alexander Bilchinsky, felt this year was the right time to pivot.

“We were the inventors of a very unique lighting solution, used for regular lighting, for high quality lighting,” Ben-Shmuel told the Business of Business. “And then when COVID started, we said, ‘Let’s make something unique, a blend of lights that will enable us to stop the spread of the virus and pathogens.’”

“I believe the world needs more technology in order to help everyone adapt to the new normal. Next time they go to restaurants, a lot of people want to know that there is something to protect them” – Ben-Shmuel

What sets Juganu apart from the rest is its combination of UVA, UVC, and standard lighting as part of its “J Protect” system. The system uses a blend of these lights to inactivate pathogens while adjusting to follow our bodies’ natural circadian rhythms. While the J Protect system isn’t a comprehensive solution to stop the spread of COVID-19, it could be a useful addition to an arsenal of protective measures already used in most public spaces.

“It gives you a very healthy light, and it gives you the spectrum that’s needed in the morning and in the evening, and then it’s much better for melatonin and other health issues,” Ben-Shmuel said. “So you’ll see it in regular environments — it’s fit for hospitals, restaurants, offices, ordinary people, any place that you’d like, mainly indoors.”

J.Protect has already been deployed in commercial spaces in Chile, India, and Israel, and the company is working with Comcast, Qualcomm, and NCR Corp to distribute the system across the country.

“They bring more value to businesses and to help them adapt to the new normal. It’s a saying now, but it’s real,” Ben-Shmuel said. “Now we changed the world, and I believe the world needs more technology in order to help everyone adapt to the new normal. Next time they go to restaurants, a lot of people want to know that there is something to protect them better, because now we understand that we have new challenges like the pandemic.”

While Ben-Shmuel and Bilchinsky have started other businesses in the past, they decided to take Juganu in a different direction when they realized their technology could help save lives. “We believe that technology has to serve the people and has to serve this population, and [this is] how we can leverage our unique technologies and our capabilities in order to help — now, we are not doing vaccines — in this global battle.”

Juganu isn’t the only company using UV lights to stop the spread of COVID. Xenex, a San Antonio, Texas-based company, has created LightStrike, a robot that makes the rounds disinfecting air and surfaces in hospitals. According to the US National Library of Medicine, Xenex and Juganu are just two of the 30-odd companies making UV disinfection equipment.

For Ben-Shmuel, the pandemic presented similar challenges that most entrepreneurs have since encountered: adapting to the new normal and finding new ways to keep the business thriving. “I looked at it as a way to improve and to solve more challenges and to learn how to be better, but founding a company is always difficult,” he said.

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