After quietly supporting national efforts to test and jab Australians over the past two years, the founders of Covax Australia took out the top prize at the 2022 Gold Coast Young Entrepreneur Awards last night.
While Covax Australia might not yet be a household name, the efforts of former MedLab Pathology Queensland general manager Mannu Kala and his co-founder Dr Anuj Gupta were certainly felt not just in Queensland, but all around the nation.
From operating specialist respiratory clinics early in the pandemic, to managing drive-thru testing facilities, organising the logistics rollout of the vaccine, and more recently manufacturing PPE - Covax Australia was behind-the-scenes in the national response to the deadly pandemic every step of the way.
According to the judges, their efforts and entrepreneurial drive put the founders at the top of the pile when it came to selecting a Young Entrepreneur of the Year for the Gold Coast, amid a hotly contested cohort which included the likes of EVOLT co-founder and winner of the Trailblazer Award, Kelly Weideman.
Covax Australia was founded by the pair in 2020 after they realised how unequipped most of our clinics and hospitals were to manage the respiratory illness bearing down on the population.
At the time, access to telehealth was poor and specialist respiratory clinics were a dime a dozen. Simultaneously, GP clinics started to refuse patients presenting symptoms of COVID-19.
“I decided that that was not going to happen to my patient cohort,” Dr Gupta told Business News Australia.
“So we put up a tent outside the clinic, and we started seeing patients - we didn’t have masks at the time, it was just gloves. The international borders were still open and the news coming form Italy was that there was a one in seven chance of dying.”
As the pandemic progressed, the pair’s expertise was called upon by states and the Federal Government to devise action plans and procedures for operating respiratory clinics, and to establish drive-thru testing sites.
It soon became patently clear to the co-founders that the only way out of restrictions and endless lockdowns was to roll out a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. With this in mind, the pair sat down and wrote a white paper that detailed the logistics processes around getting needles into as many arms as possible.
“That’s a concept that we pitched to (former Health Minister) Greg Hunt, and thankfully that was taken up in the country and as you can see it’s been a great success story,” Dr Gupta said.
From there, the Covax Australia muscle brought on Linfox and Qantas (ASX: QAN) to help move the inoculation nationwide - a complicated mission that involved cold storage and strict timelines, not to mention insatiable demand.
“That set us up quite well with Queensland Health, and we essentially helped them establish the mass-immunisation clinics here in Queensland. We ran clinics from start-to-finish, and that included doctors, nurses, pharmacists, cleaning staff, security staff - the whole shebang,” he said.
“We never said no.
“Whenever we were asked to do something by our local hospital, health service, district school, Queensland Health, Federal Health, we didn’t say no; we said ‘yep - we’ll give it a hit’.”
Essentially, as the pandemic evolved, so did Covax. But for their plans to succeed, the company needed serious manpower.
As such, from September 2020 to April this year, Covax Australia had about 900 active staff working every day in the company. Indeed, the gradual dissolution of COVID-19 restrictions hasn’t spelled the end of the business - it now supports close to 100 aged care facilities with staffing solutions in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.
“We are also assisting hotels in Southeast Queensland and providing them with staff - they have the same problems as aged care with furloughed staff, people are falling sick, so they need immediate assistance,” Dr Gupta added.
The company also operates a manufacturing facility that produces rapid antigen tests, with one currently under consideration with the TGA that Covax hopes will be a step ahead of the next COVID wave.
Asked where he sees the business in a few years’ time, the co-founder said continued evolution would be at the heart of the business.
“Covax Australia will continue to evolve majorly, because we are no longer just dependent on COVID,” he said.
“Both of us came to this country as international students, and then for the last 18 years or so we’ve been local products of the education system here. We’ve converted that into hard work and decided we don’t want to just work for people - we want to make our own success.”
Impressive as they are, Gupta and Kala were not the only brilliant young business minds on display last night at the Gold Coast Young Entrepreneur Awards, which was supported by corporate partners Go1, Venture Crowd, City of Gold Coast, MGI, Study Gold Coast and OSW.
See below for all winners from the night, and we thank all participants for sharing their stories with the Business News Australia journalists.
All winners at the 2022 Gold Coast Young Entrepreneur Awards
- Young Entrepreneur of the Year - Mannu Kala and Dr Anuj Gupta (Covax Australia)
- Trailblazer - Kelly Weideman (EVOLT)
- Arts & Culture - Michael Huxley (Huxley Group, MCH Capital)
- Digital Disruptor - James Greig (iVvy, Bloomtools, Wildflower Gin)
- Finance - James Marshall (MWM Advisory)
- Fitness - Tammy Hembrow (Tammy Fit)
- Food & Beverage - Mike Kellett (Macro Mike, Macro King, Macro Gym)
- Health & Medicine - Mannu Kala and Dr Anuj Gupta (Covax Australia)
- Hospitality & Tourism - James Carney, Alec Carney, Paul Carney (Gemelli Group)
- Marketing - Flynn McFarlane (Arkhi)
- PR, Media & Events - Jacob Ritchie (Two Birds Social, Poly Studios, North Productions)
- Professional Services - Byron Van Gisborne (Career Building)
- Property & Construction - Luke Carruthers & Kacie-lee Carruthers (Lackon)
- Retail & Services - Emilly Hankin (Emilly Hadrill Hair)
- Specialist Services - Jared Ooi (Maco Electrics)
- Sustainability & Social Responsibility - Joshua Murchie, Mathew Sayed, Craig Gillam & Matthew Shipman (Little Phil)
- Startup - Siobhan Macdonald (Premium Auto Services)
- Technology - James Gilmour (Gilmour Space)
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