Business Alum Devotes Time, Expertise to Ventilator Project

UAlbany alum Nick Domnisch, center, is pictured with engineers Noah Pacik-Nelson, left, and Justin Schroeder, both students at the University of Connecticut, at the workspace of The Ventilator Project in Boston. (Provided photo)

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 19, 2020) — Ventilators, essential tools to keep compromised lungs pumping, have been in short supply during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several UAlbany alumni have been working on fixing that problem through The Ventilator Project, a nonprofit Boston start-up producing affordable ventilators specifically for COVID-19. Robotics experts are working with those in the medical and business fields to design and build ventilators quickly and at lower cost while maintaining product quality.

Nick Domnisch ’15, who earned a BS in business administration, interdisciplinary market regulation and financial analysis, started working with The Ventilator Project in March. He had previously worked with one of the project’s co-founders on an earlier start-up.

For Domnisch, joining the project was all about helping during the COVID-19 crisis. “I was young when 9/11 happened but I remember how many people came together to help. This is my contribution to this crisis,” he said. “When my kid asks what I did, I do not want to tell them that I was sitting in front of my computer watching Netflix.”

When he arrived in Boston, there were five people on the team. Now there are more than 250. Leveraging his regulatory experience though his work with FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Domnisch began working as the FDA liaison and recently became head of the sales and finance departments.  

He said that the biggest hurdle wasn’t engineering, but sourcing materials.

The team had to design a ventilator that circumvents the current medical supply chain bottlenecks. Because the medical device industry has huge profit margins and ventilator parts are in short supply, the company looked for materials outside of the traditional supply chain. A key element is a food grade bellows. During a brainstorming session, Domnisch came up with the ultimate solution: beekeeper bellows used to smoke bees from hives. He admits that the idea came to him from a cartoon he had seen when he was a kid.

“We ran into some issues with our first and second versions and when we realized bee bellows could be a solution, we reengineered the prototype to include bee bellows,” said Domnisch.

The Ventilator Project is requesting FDA emergency use authorization. Once that comes through, the manufacturing team will be able to produce 100 units by the end of May, 1,000 in June and eventually up to 50,000 per month.

Their scalable solution ought to put a dent in the 13M unit global ventilator shortage. And the project will be able to sell ventilators at about $5,000 – compared to the typical price of $35,000 to $50,000, Domnisch said.

Domnisch recruited a handful of other UAlbany alumni for the project, including Bryan Doss ‘17, his partner in EE Solutions, a software development company the two started while they were students. The company creates web apps for Fortune 500 companies.

“The Ventilator Project has real importance to the world. I was happy to help in any way I could,” said Doss, who is working on the firmware team. “The project goals are really ambitious, and it excited me from an engineering perspective.”

Tom Ferguson ’17 has involved his marketing team from LIFTmktg, an ad agency based in Saratoga Springs. Other School of Business alumni are working in financial modeling and sales.

Sam Cittadino’18, who works for a New York investment bank, is volunteering in sales and finance. “During times like this we need to come together and help in any way we can, whether that is working on the frontlines as a healthcare worker, practicing safe social distancing, or being an active part of the solution like the good people at The Ventilator Project,” he said. “They are working around the clock to develop low-cost and relatively quick-to-assemble ventilators in the fight against COVID-19. I have so much respect and admiration toward this group and happy to help in any way I can.”

Other UAlbany School of Business Alumni working on the Ventilator Project include:

  • Logan Mongelli ’18 Digital Forensics, Business Administration minor
  • Steven Gagliardo ’15 Business Administration/Financial Analyst Honors, History minor
  • Peter Rodrigues ’16 Accounting and Business Administration
  • Andrew Ginsburg ’15 Business Administration and Accounting/Financial Analysis Honors, economics minor; and ’16 Masters in Forensic Accounting

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