Opting-in during COVID-19
Adesis leader shares how mission of safety and business continuity helped the company grow during a pandemic
By Martha Lodge
In early 2020, businesses throughout Delaware, and around the globe, braced for what would become a worldwide pandemic. Andrew Cottone, PhD, President of Adesis, Inc., realized early on that his company, like so many others, was in for a marathon, not a sprint.
Cottone’s primary mission for Adesis, a rapidly growing contract research organization (CRO), was to keep the team safe. His meticulous attention to employee safety enabled business continuity, and has positioned Adesis to exit the pandemic stronger than when they entered it. “Our focus on keeping people safe—and growing the company—during COVID-19 is a tribute to everyone at Adesis,” Cottone said.
Upshifting and downshifting through the ebb and flow of COVID-19
Adesis is a fully U.S.-based CRO, nationally recognized for turning difficult whiteboard chemistry concepts into physical products. It’s also a growing chemical manufacturer and an R&D chemical company. Cottone refers to Adesis clients as a Who’s Who in pharma, biotech, material science, agriculture, ophthalmology and virtual biotech.
The New Castle-based company found itself upshifting and downshifting in 2020 through the ebb and flow of COVID-19. They scaled down from four shifts and 16-hour days seven days a week to three shifts and 14-hour days five days a week, then back up again.
Working remotely wasn’t a feasible option for most of Adesis’ now approximately 140 lab-based employees and contractors (the company surpassed its Delaware Strategic Fund Grant goal to reach 120 employees by the end of 2020). Being in a chemistry lab though, may be one of the safest places to work in a pandemic.
As scientists, the team’s standard lab attire already included Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as goggles, lab coats and gloves. Masks were added to complete the COVID-19 ensemble.
Lab environments require sophisticated HVAC technology, so Adesis was already ahead of the curve. They rebalanced the filtration system to increase air flow and change over the air every five minutes instead of every ten. They hired on-site nurses, staggered shifts, instituted nightly cleanings, practiced mock decontaminations, and engaged Delaware’s own ChristianaCare for virtual employee check-ins.
Adesis even produced its own hand sanitizer, and made it readily available—along with masks—to employees and their families. They also donated hand sanitizer and masks to first responders. “Doing all of this fit our mission and, quite simply, it was the right thing to do,” said Cottone. “Adesis is so much more than doing research and running a great chemistry operation. We take care of one another.”
Adesis employees “opt-in”
What may have set Adesis apart in its approach to ensuring business continuity in the midst of a pandemic was its CV-19 Leave Code. If an employee was concerned about coming to work due to anything associated with either the biology or stress of COVID-19, they had the option to stay home—with pay.
“COVID-19 was, and still is, as much a psychological event as a biological one,” Cottone believes. “We didn’t want any of our employees to worry about job security on top of health needs,” he said. “We wanted our people to feel comfortable coming in to work knowing that Adesis was listening and doing everything possible to help them stay safe.”
Instead of seeing the leave code as an “opt-out” policy that permitted people not to come to work, Adesis employees embraced it as an “opt in” benefit that made people want to come to work because of the safeguards and support that were in place – and it worked. At no time during the pandemic did Adesis attendance drop below 91%. They are now back to full staff participation. “Our folks opted-in in overwhelming numbers,” Cottone said.
By ensuring an environment where staff felt comfortable coming to work, not only was Adesis able to maintain business continuity, they grew. Adesis serves as the de facto extended research arm of its parent company, Universal Display Corporation (Nasdaq: OLED), as well as for partners in both pharma and biotech whose labs were closed while Adesis remained open.
The speed of Delaware
“Delaware is a great place for chemistry,” said Cottone of the state’s intense concentration of PhD and advanced-degree scientists. “I like to call it the DNA of Delaware. A nimbleness and can-do attitude, coupled with talent and skill set to solve next-generation problems.”
A few years ago, Adesis was able to build and implement 5,000 square feet of lab space in just six months thanks to the speed of Delaware, facilitated with help from Delaware Prosperity Partnership and permit collaboration by the State, New Castle County Government, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), and DNREC (Delaware Natural Resources and Environmental Control).
That support also made it possible for Adesis to move into the Delaware Innovation Space at the Experimental Station just six weeks after signing a contract — and that timeframe included the busy season between Thanksgiving and the end of the year.
“That’s the 21st Century speed of Delaware,” said Cottone. “The speed of Delaware works well with the intensity of Adesis, where we like to move faster than anybody else.”
And then there are Delaware’s advantages as a great place to live, work and play. “The lower cost of living without compromising quality is what I love about Delaware,” Cottone said. “Our children are getting a great education, there are plenty of outside activities, and easy transportation by road, train or air to get where we want to go. Plus, we have beaches and ‘almost’ year-round golf!” continued Cottone.
Consistency, transparency and ability to act rapidly
While the past is full of valuable lessons, Cottone spends his days thinking about where Adesis is headed. Thanks to their success in navigating COVID-19, the company has a strong business continuity plan in place to face future challenges—which his team regularly reviews and updates.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the world we live and work in. In a blink of an eye, we had to adapt to the changing environment around us,” he said. “Consistency, transparency and the ability to act quickly. It worked, and we would do the same again.”
What’s next for Adesis after safely growing during a pandemic? “For starters, more manufacturing in Delaware,” said Cottone.
That anticipated growth will be guided by the company’s new Chief Operating Officer, Helen Stimson, past president of the Delaware BioScience Association. Cottone said Stimson’s business acumen nicely complements the company’s scientific acumen and places Adesis on a trajectory to increase scale and quality. They also plan to expand into specialty chemistry with larger reactors to better serve clients.
Cottone joins Delaware’s delegation in supporting the move of local chemical supply, and feels it is imperative for companies like Adesis to answer that call in preparation for the possibility of a future pandemic.
“Keep an eye on Adesis,” said Cottone, who believes that the next five years will be a great growth story for the company. “We are committed to growing, and we plan to do it here in Delaware.”