Stopping Outbreaks in Their Tracks

Spring 2022
Graham Grieve ’18

Graham Grieve ’18 has a goal: To create technology that can help everyone return to a life that looks similar to the one they knew prior to the coronavirus pandemic, while leaving them better protected from new variants and other outbreaks.

“I’m a bit of an idealist, so I want to help solve big problems,” says Grieve, co-founder and CEO of the contact tracing company Trace Innovations in San Francisco.

When the pandemic changed the world in March 2020, Grieve was teaching English in Italy on a Fulbright Scholarship. As a result, his classes went online, but when the program was terminated, he returned to the United States.

“From that brief exposure to the online learning situation, it was clear that the pandemic was going to have a massive impact on education and on kids’ social, mental, and educational outcomes,” Grieve explains.

Therefore, he and his two brothers, Porter and Alex ’13, brainstormed ideas to help schools during the pandemic. While doing so, they realized that contact tracing in the U.S. faced massive issues.

“By the time contact tracers had contact with someone who tested positive, the positive case often couldn’t remember whom they interacted with days before — and those exposed were likely about to enter that 48-hour period where they’re contagious prior to developing symptoms,” Grieve says.

The brothers saw a need for a digital solution, such as phone-to- phone Bluetooth, but a centralized and digital contact tracing solution from the government wouldn’t work due to civil liberties concerns. Completely decentralized solutions lacked the ability to hold people accountable to report testing positive or quarantining themselves.

By process of elimination, they determined that a private, centralized Bluetooth contact tracing system for individual schools would be the most successful solution. They spoke to schools, found Bluetooth developers, and built the system with these schools’ feedback, allowing clients to instantly identify all COVID-19 close contacts within seconds, based on the proximity of student interactions via their mobile devices.

Hence, Trace was born in 2020, providing a digital solution within a setting where trust exists between students and administration. It aims to make contact tracing so seamless and effective that it blends into the background of everyday life, building a world resilient to the threat of COVID-19 and other communicable diseases.

“Our mission is to create a world in which every school and every business can protect its people from communicable disease and do so in a convenient, unobtrusive manner by providing safety without people even having to think about it,” Grieve says. “If we’re able to achieve that, outbreaks would be stopped in their tracks.”

Realizing the market moves quickly, Grieve and his partners are exploring the ways their underlying technology can be used for a variety of purposes, including active shooter situations, the ways an organization uses its space, and understanding how business-wide or school-wide activity is changing.

“By licensing our technology out to platforms with larger client bases, we’ll be able to distribute globally overnight and help more people around the world,” he says.

Grieve majored in international relations at Colgate, where he was a member of Phi Kappa Tau and hosted his own WRCU talk show as a first-year.