Combat vets hope to create Afghan jobs with footwear; biotech firm lands in Tacoma
Two veterans of the war in Afghanistan and a businessman launch Combat Flip Flops, an Issaquah-based online store selling flip-flops made in Kabul. Also, there's biotech in Tacoma — a company there attracts $10 million for novel technology.
Two veterans of the war in Afghanistan and a businessman have launched Combat Flip Flops, an Issaquah-based online store that sells flip-flops made in Kabul.
"We want to empower these people with the economy; it is not a handout," said Andy Sewrey, president of the company. "It is trying to create an economy in a war zone."
The startup company is paying Afghan workers to produce high-quality flip-flops that it hopes will compete with established brands such as REEF and Rainbow Sandals.
The flip-flops will be shipped to North America, Australia and Europe, and marketed especially to the military community as well as consumers interested in social causes.
CEO Matthew Griffin and co-founder Donald Lee served in the 75th Ranger Regiment, including deployments to Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005. Griffin then returned to Afghanistan with Remote Medical International, a company that provides equipment and training to medical providers in remote areas.
Around this time Afghan factories started producing uniforms and boots for the country's new army under a NATO policy designed to encourage local manufacturing. Griffin saw one of these factories in action and thought these skills shouldn't go to waste once the army had what it needed.
As he toured the nine-floor factory, a combat-boot sole with a flip-flop thong attached to it caught his eye. "Somebody there thought it would be funny to make a combat flip-flop, they were messing around," Griffin said.
"Combat flip-flops ... the idea kind of stuck with me."
As soon as he went to his hotel he registered the domain name.
Over a two-year period Griffin, Lee and Sewrey, Griffin's brother-in-law, worked on the idea. They attended trade shows in Salt Lake City and put their concept out on a couple of defense blogs. Military gear suppliers contacted them and wanted to know how they could help, Griffin said. A half dozen gear suppliers pre-ordered their flip-flops, which enabled the startup to get into production.
Griffin said he's thankful for that support. "It's really unheard of to have them finance production before they have seen an initial product."
By August, the company expects to have about 2,000 pairs of flip-flops for sale at those military-gear retailers and on its website. They are priced at $65 a pair on the company's website.
The flip-flop named AK-47 has been the most popular. It has a AK-47 bullet replica in the thong of the flip-flop, and poppy flowers imprinted on the bottom of the shoe sole.
The trio chose this design because it reflects the assault rifle of choice in Afghanistan.
"There are 12-year-olds herding sheep with them; everyone's got them," Sewrey said. "It ties back to the country. It has a bit of a tough feel."
Another pair of flip-flops resembles a "pimped-out" Afghan taxi with vinyl straps to match the three-wheeled taxi's upholstered seats. There is a piece of chrome attached to the thong to match the taxis' hood ornaments.
The third pair was designed with Navy SEALs in mind and is called the Poseidon. It is blue and tan with the SEALs' special warfare insignia, commonly known as the "Budweiser," on the heel.
The company hopes it will bring some sustainable jobs to Afghan workers and encourage "business, not bullets."
"We think if more people wore flip-flops there would be less fighting," Griffin said.
— Johanna Somers, firstname.lastname@example.org
Biotech firm lands $10M — in Tacoma
The words Tacoma, biotechnology and $10 million have probably never clustered in one sentence before.
So it's news that a small company on Foss Waterway has raised such a sum — and hopes to double it — to pursue clinical trials of a potential mechanism for treating inflammatory diseases.
Revalesio is small and low-profile. "We're just nestled here in the tideflats under the 11th St. bridge," says chief science officer Richard Watson. But it has some well-connected backers.
Its CEO is Eric Russell, a top executive at Tacoma's investment giant, Frank Russell Co., until a couple years after its 1998 sale.
Its directors include Lee Huntsman, the former University of Washington president and bioengineering professor who now heads the state's Life Sciences Discovery Fund, and Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist Scott Walchek.
Russell family money has bankrolled Revalesio since 2004, says Watson, declining to disclose how much.
Recently the company reported its first outside financing, signing up individual investors in the Northwest for the first half of a planned $20 million financing.
That will enable the company to pursue early-stage clinical trials in asthma, multiple sclerosis and heart attacks for what Watson calls a "totally novel" approach that "touches both physics and biology."
Revalesio's technology utilizes what it calls "charge-stabilized nanostructures," bubbles of possibly less than 100 oxygen molecules surrounded with a lattice of sodium and chloride ions and carry a small electrical charge. When these long-lasting structures touch certain cells, they can alter the electrical conductance of the cell surface, Revalesio says. That disrupts the activity of proteins crucial to the inflammatory process "without crippling normal cellular functions," according to the company.
"We've found they have significant anti-inflammatory properties, sometimes approaching steroids," Watson says. He says Revalesio aims to gather enough human data in small-scale clinical trials to attract corporate partners for the more extensive and costly testing that would be needed to obtain regulatory approval.
Russell, who is traveling and was unavailable for comment, encountered the technology when it was being applied to hydroponics and first became interested in its potential for increasing food production in less-developed countries, says Watson. That work was later spun off into a separate effort.
Now Revalesio is focused on the medical potential of the technology, while a subsidiary called Reliant Beverage sells water treated with the same nanobubbles to "protect your body from exercise-induced pain and soreness," according to its website.
Watson says Tacoma has been supportive of Revalesio, which now employs about 25. The city and its UW campus have shown interest in growing a local biotech sector.
But if there's another biopharmaceutical company in Tacoma at present, says Watson, "I'd love to know."
— Rami Grunbaum
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