Andrew Nerlinger’s job uses tech to combat infectious diseases. Then along came COVID-19.

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As co-founder of Texas-based PandemicTech, he has been focused on using technology to combat infectious diseases for years.

For years, Dr. Andrew Nerlinger has been at the forefront of using technology to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

He’s never had a bigger megaphone than now. The co-founder of Austin-based PandemicTech LLC has been busy with news and podcast interviews in recent weeks, and his company is collaborating with the World Health Organization. PandemicTech has also created a $100,000 fellowship program to find innovative ways to combat infectious diseases. 

The company on April 27 named its first recipient — Angel Desai, an infectious disease physician, and researcher using surveillance methodologies to study disease trends — and plans to award funds to more people throughout the next year.

PandemicTech — which Nerlinger started four years ago with his wife, Dr. Lisa McDonald — is a virtual incubator, bringing together entrepreneurs and big thinkers to share ideas and strategies. 

They are tackling what, for decades, has been the domain of governments and large nonprofits: global health security. But as the current pandemic has shown all too clearly, many of those institutions were caught flat-footed by COVID-19.

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“This was, unfortunately, the type of circumstance that we were very concerned about when we started the program in 2016, looking at what was … being done in the global setting to prepare for and respond to pandemic infectious disease outbreaks,” he said. 

“For years and years, pandemic outbreaks have been the responsibility of governments and major nonprofits like the Gates Foundation, which do a great job with what their focus is. But we really felt thought there was an opportunity to bring in the private sector to this conversation, and most relevantly think about how we could bridge our experience with early-stage tech startups and the venture capital space, to bridging that gap between what we call the global health security community and the technology-entrepreneurship space.”

That could mean bringing private-sector funding models into the pandemic response. PandemicTech works mostly in the developing world, helping develop novel ways to combat diseases such as Ebola and Zika virus. Now Nerlinger wants to use the COVID-19 pandemic as a chance to think about infectious diseases in a wider sense.

In addition to his work with PandemicTech, Nerlinger is a venture partner at Bill Wood Ventures, the family office of Bill Wood, one of the most prominent startup investors in town — he launched both Austin Ventures and Silverton Partners. So Nerlinger has a front-row seat for how the coronavirus is disrupting the venture capital ecosystem. He said companies reporting funding now likely had their deals finalized weeks ago and he expects future data to reflect a wider slowdown.

“Of course, it’s a tough time to fundraise right now. I think everyone’s taken a little bit of a pause,” Nerlinger said. 

“But the reality is funds still have to keep investing, they can’t hold onto their capital forever, so they still need to be finding companies. I think that all hope is not lost. I think that this is a great opportunity and some companies have actually being doing even better because of the pandemic and depending if they have some type of solution that’s directly applicable.”


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