Companies across the country are changing course to help fight the coronavirus. Automakers are building respirators and distilleries are producing hand sanitizer.
And Inntopia of Stowe is adapting its reservation software to provide a system where people can register for COVID-19 tests.
The Stowe company builds and maintains software for resorts, allowing guests to book trips and ski lessons and buy passes, but after the coronavirus spread to the United States and President Trump declared a state of emergency, CEO Trevor Crist wanted to do something that could help.
In 48 hours, the Inntopia team had a working prototype that could help patients schedule COVID-19 tests with health clinics and hospitals. It’s called TestLink, and the company is offering the software free of charge to anyone who can use it.
“We had an epiphany that it’s kind of what our company does already,” Crist said. He heard the president say the country was enlisting 1,700 Google software engineers to build a system to support widespread testing.
“I remember thinking, ‘Why do they need 1,700 engineers to do that?’” Crist said. “Our system does most of what they’re talking about.”
While the effort Trump referred to was misrepresented, Crist said, Inntopia’s is real. Inntopia has 80 full-time employees, and about half are software engineers.
“Literally within 48 hours, with some engineers and designers, we were able to put together a working prototype,” he said.
The company took its platform that would normally book ski lessons — when they will be, the skill level of the skier, and other personal information — and tweaked the questions and format to fit the needs of potential testing sites. Engineers worked with local health care professionals to make sure the format fit their needs and Crist is confident the system could work for a small clinic or even scale up for statewide use.
The program can show available locations for tests and what time slots are available. That solves a big issue with highly infectious diseases — large groups of people in confined areas.
“Once we do have the ability to do widespread testing, you don’t want people to be standing in line to get tested,” Crist said. But “we all know what the solution is to this. It’s widespread testing and isolating the people that tested positive.”
Inntopia has contacted local clinics and the state, but it’s too early to tell when widespread testing will happen, which is when the Inntopia platform will be useful.
Inntopia plans to provide the service for free to small organizations; larger organizations might have to pay.
“The first goal is to get this out there. The second goal is to monetize it, if and when it comes time to do that,” Christ said. Some of his engineers have already showed an altruistic spirit, volunteering their skills to help clinics set up and maintain telemedicine systems, he said.
But the company’s not a charity, and the virus crisis has cut into its business.
“Being in the hospitality industry, we’re taking a big hit,” Crist said. “We know our revenue has taken a huge hit because a lot of our customers have been shut down.
“The road ahead looks challenging. So if there is an opportunity to get into health care, we’ll certainly take that,” Crist said. “There’s an opportunity to help and an opportunity to keep people working as well.
“It’s like World War II. Car factories started making airplanes. Everybody had to pivot to be a part of the effort. It’s a similar time in history.”