U of T startup connects health providers to donations of critical supplies

Conceived as a platform to help labs source supplies, Melanie Ratnam (centre, top row) and her team pivoted their business amid COVID-19 and are now connecting health-care workers with donated supplies (screenshot via Zoom)

A startup from the University of Toronto Scarborough is helping hospitals and health service providers find critical supplies after its original business plan was put on hold due to COVID-19.

The team behind Indaggo – a platform that aims to help labs save time and money when sourcing research supplies – developed a web application called RESPOND to connect organizations in need of critical health and medical supplies to donations from the local community.

“We wanted to pitch in and find a way that can help support our front line medical workers,” says Melanie Ratnam, the startup’s founder.

Indaggo originally planned to launch in March during U of T’s Entrepreneurship Week, but the True Blue Expo was cancelled alongside several other university events because of COVID-19 and most labs went into lockdown.When the challenge of finding critical supplies quickly became apparent – everything from personal protective equipment to common items like hand sanitizer – Ratnam and her team started thinking of ways they could apply their software development expertise to help with the supply challenge.

The result was RESPOND.

“If an organization is in need of something – say, 500 bottles of hand sanitizer, they can log into the app and put out a call.” she says. “Volunteers can then respond by donating toward the goal.”

Services and Housing in the Province (SHIP), a non-profit that provides housing and supports to vulnerable populations in Greater Toronto, has started using the application to find face masks and tablets to assist with personal counselling sessions.

“During these uncertain times, many doors have been closed to those most in need. Individuals who are homeless, precariously housed or living with a mental health issue may face increased challenges in practicing measures essential to keeping them safe,” says Laurie Ridler, CEO of SHIP.

“Indaggo has supported SHIP in working toward these efforts through a generous donation of 500 hand-sewn masks. We are thankful of the support for our community, especially at a time like this.”

The RESPOND application has drop-off and delivery information, and one of the main benefits is that organizations with an urgent need can post right away.

Ratnam came up with the idea for Indaggo during her time as a PhD candidate in a research lab at U of T Scarborough. She says lab budgets can be tight and every dollar needs to go a long way, but it’s also equally important to source quality materials so that experiments won’t be compromised. 

“It’s not uncommon for some researchers to spend anywhere from 10 to 20 hours per week searching numerous websites, sending emails or making phone calls – all to find the best products and prices,” says Ratnam, who completed her PhD in neuroscience in 2018.

“I thought to myself that some of this work can be handled by software, and that way researchers can spend more time on their research.”

While the pandemic put the official launch of Indaggo on hold, Ratnam says her team is happy to help front line medical staff. 

“I feel so privileged to be on such a creative, hard-working team,” says Ratnam of her startup that came out of The Hub, U of T Scarborough’s entrepreneurial incubator.

“We have a team of nine and there’s no way we could have pulled it off without everyone coming together.” 

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