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Challenge 2: Innovations to Support Reopening

Winner: CareAline Products

Challenge Goal

1. Foster innovations that will help “lock in” the low rate of COVID infections in Massachusetts achieved through social distancing and other measures

2. Help Massachusetts manufacturers pivot their operations to produce goods and services that can be sold to public and private buyers in Massachusetts and beyond.

3. Support the efforts of the Manufacturing Emergency Response Team (MERT).

4. Preserve and create jobs in Massachusetts.

Accelerator Program Overview

Companies were selected for a five-week acceleration toward new or expanded capacity to produce goods and services in support of the state’s re-opening. Priority was given to companies that had the potential to deliver solutions at scale in a short period of time.

During the challenge program, innovators developed prototype(s), business plans, market analysis and go-to-market strategies. On August 21, finalists presented their plans to a panel of experts. This panel selected CareAline Products to receive a $25,000 COVID Innovation Challenge grant award.

Although just one team won the Challenge, all participating companies will benefit from the COVID Innovation Challenge program. Participants had access to manufacturing know-how, to various domain experts, to raw material providers, and to prospective purchasers.

Meet the finalists

Phillips Enterprises, Inc.
Julee Clement,
Northampton

CareAline Products
Kezia Fitzgerald,
Danvers

Pyxis Global
Zoe Grant,
Lawrence

Landmark Finish Inc.
Deanna Junge,
Andover

Northeast Biomedical, Inc.
Elizabeth Nelson,
Tyngsborough

TrueBounce Inc.
Wayne Newton,
New Bedford

Quanta Collaboration
Armando Paredes,
Somerville

FLEXcon
Bill Sullivan,
Spencer

Shear Color Printing
Joel Weitzman,
Woburn

PHILLIPS ENTERPRISES ENTERS THE CORONA FIGHT WITH PPE BARRIERS

A Phillips employee fabricates a PPE barrier

Phillips Enterprises designs custom retail display solutions, for a wide range of products, including candles, cosmetics, art supplies, fragrances, toys, and electronics. The COVID-19 pandemic has kept
many customers from visiting retail stores and as a result, has reduced the demand for product displays. According to Leeanne Herman, the company’s Director of Sales, “we needed to pivot to generate sales.”

Phillips’ management explored the company’s capabilities to make PPE. After considering other products like masks and face shields, the team agreed to focus on PPE barriers. Protective barriers are a good fit for Phillips, a company experienced in acrylic cutting. Herman explained that once the design standards were in place, Phillips planned to “generate revenue through economies of scale.”

But as the company entered the marketplace, Phillips realized that a one-size-fits-all solution did not fit in many circumstances. The team also realized that many of their customers didn’t themselves know the proper barrier solutions for their unique spaces. Herman said that now, “people turn to us because they don’t know what they need, and we’ll take the time to talk through the scenario and its solution. So we’ve positioned ourselves as industry leaders by providing a customer-focused service, listening to our customers needs, and partnering with them to provide them with the best solution to reopening their business or school.”

The Phillips sales team provides direct on-site consultation to each customer to understand their protective barrier needs, determining the best solution for their space, and taking required measurements and details needed to fit the location. These details are brought back to create a quotation and engineering design. At this point, Phillips manufactures the barriers, and finally, the company sends a team to deliver and install the product for the customers. For smaller orders, the entire process takes only a week.

Herman is pleased with Phillips’ new work. “Providing these physical barriers gives me a sense of accomplishment because I’m fighting the disease’s spread, and that’s what it’s all about.”

GOWN AND MASK PRODUCTION NOT A FAR REACH FOR MEDICAL GARMENT COMPANY

Fitzgerald models CareAline’s reusable
PPE gown

Kezia Fitzgerald is no stranger to quarantine. A two-time cancer survivor, Fitzgerald underwent a stem cell transplant last November. “I was just leaving my three-month mandated isolation when everything shut down. I went back into a life of isolation!”

Quarantine has not kept Fitzgerald from being productive. She is the CIO of CareAline, a medical products company. In standard times, CareAline creates common sense medical safety garments based on Fitzgerald’s own experiences with her and her daughter’s cancer care. Like many chemotherapy patients, they needed vascular access lines for drug administration. The experience of overseeing her family’s lines led Fitzgerald to develop products to help care for vascular access lines in others.

CareAline has increased its offerings to help respond to the pandemic. “It started with a text message,” says Fitzgerald. “I asked a doctor I know, ‘what do you need? Face masks, shields?’ The response was ‘isolation gowns’ just dead on, without any hesitation.” Fitzgerald set immediately to work, consulting with her pattern-maker, sourcing supplies, and discussing needs and specifications with medical professionals. CareAline’s gown design features a high collar to protect the chest and neck, a Velcro fastener that reduces contamination when removing the gown, and even thumbhole cuffs to help keep the cuff inside the glove, protecting the wrists.

Another distinguishing feature of CareAline’s gowns: they’re reusable. Fitzgerald explains, “reusable PPE ends up being a huge environmental savings as well as a cost savings, up to 70% over a disposable system. It’s 95% waste saving and 40% water saving, including the washing process, while stabilizing the supply chain.” The gowns can be used in medical settings as well as dental offices, schools and nursing homes. The Level 1 and 2 gowns are FDA-registered, and the company’s U.S.- based manufacturing will allow it to quickly provide both now and in future PPE shortages.

Besides gowns, CareAline has also begun mask production. The company has employed a chlorineactivated biofabric for its masks (the same fabric is used in hospital curtains and scrubs). CareAline masks also feature a layer of interior moisture-wicking fabric to improve comfort.

PYXIS EXPLODES TO NEW HEIGHTS AFTER TAKING ON THE PPE CRISIS

Today, Zoe Grant leads an active sales department at Pyxis, one of the country’s leading face shield suppliers. A few months ago, she was living a completely different experience.

“I was the fifth coronavirus case in Maine. I was so, so, so sick, just crazy sick. I was in strict quarantine for a month.”

Grant is close to the owners of Pyxis, a family business. During her COVID recovery, the owners checked on Zoe often. One day, they showed Zoe a picture of a face shield they had designed and asked her what she thought. “Well, I loved the design,” she said. Shortly after her recovery from COVID, she began working at Pyxis full time selling the masks she endorsed so heartily.

Grant arrived at Pyxis at a time of rapid growth for the company, driven by demand for PPE. CEO David Kagan said that Pyxis first got into the PPE business when Partners Health reached out due to a critical face shield shortage.

Pyxis’ face-shield design uses a paper board material with a clear laminated window which is recyclable and compostable, unlike plastic alternatives. “Face shields are responsible for 77,000 tons of plastic this year, so the amount of plastic waste that Pyxis is saving is monumental,” Grant said. The shields can also ship flat, lowering freight costs. Pyxis also offers customized shields and children’s sizes. The company now has 28 employees making shields and has shipped shields to 39 U.S. states.

Pyxis has donated nearly 50,000 shields to local organizations. “We started manufacturing for Partners, then Boston EMS, then Buffalo EMS, and then Boston City Hospital, then a couple of the food banks, then the YMCA, and at that point it began to gain critical mass because of the critical shortage,” Kagan said.

Grant has opened Pyxis up to some new and unconventional marketing strategies. “In the beginning, we joined WhatsApp groups, Facebook groups, and Telegram. We reached out to a company over TikTok and we were able to send samples to them! We just looked at each other and said ‘seriously?’”

Grant has learned some interesting things about sales as well. “People have been calling about things we don’t even sell. They’re like ‘we heard you’re so nice, and that you say please and thank you.’ And I say ‘that’s not a thing everyone’s doing?’ There’s so much craziness in our industry that being friendly, as silly as that sounds, put us above.”

AMID COVID CONCERNS, LANDMARK FINISH PIVOTS FROM CABINETRY TO A NEW SAFE-GUARD BARRIER PRODUCT

Stewart and Deanna Junge posing near their new CNC cutting machine design

Landmark Finish of Andover, Mass. is a custom cabinet shop that serves the commercial and residential markets. Before COVID-19 arrived, the Landmark team was developing a new showroom and design center.

When the state went into lockdown last March, owner Stewart Junge had flashbacks to the 2008 financial recession. “I spent about a week and a half feeling confused and depressed,” Junge explained. While watching the news one night, Junge saw a video segment that featured a man standing behind a makeshift plastic barrier. “The next morning, I started making prototypes in the shop,” he recalled.

With a finished prototype and some early marketing done, Stewart convinced Deanna Junge, his wife and Landmark’s Director of Business Development, to bring some Safe-Guard samples to local businesses for feedback. Driving around Andover in the rain, the pair visited local essential businesses, pitching their barriers, and even staging a few. After
snapping a couple marketing pictures, the Junges were ready to go “all in” and pivot to manufacturing protection barriers.

In the supply-strapped early days of the American COVID-19 pandemic, Northeast’s leaders asked all employees to invent solutions. Despite the urgency of the crisis and the direct impact of COVID-19 on Northeast’s staff, the team has held on to its fun culture. Nelson says it’s more important than ever to be able to channel her inner child. She looks forward to looking back on this time, confident that her work on products like fun barriers will remind her that it “wasn’t as bad as I was afraid it could be.”

As Landmark began to target banks and other essential businesses, the company took on its first sales associate, a Landmark business advisor out of work on furlough. After seeing her enthusiasm for Landmark’s new barrier product, Stewart jokingly asked, ‘do you want to start selling these for us?’ The advisor joined the company the next day, and shortly after closed Landmark’s first big deal, an order of more than 200 Safe-Guards for a regional bank with branches throughout New England.

Since that sale, Landmark has sold their Safe-Guards to Boston College, Brandeis University, and the Andover Public School District, as well as other banks, medical facilities, law offices, mom and pop stores, and all things in between. They even sold outdoor dining barriers for phase 2 reopening to five Andover restaurants.

The Junges consider themselves lucky. Landmark already had the machinery and materials needed to make protective barriers, enabling them to quickly go to market. “The machines don’t care if they are Stewart and Deanna Junge posing near their new CNC cutting machine cutting wood or plastic,” Deanna explained. Landmark now fields questions from other small companies looking to pivot their businesses. Stewart quipped, “we’re going to write a book and a course on how to pivot!”

NORTHEAST BIOMEDICAL’S JUBILANT COMPANY CULTURE ADDS ELATION TO ISOLATION

Northeast Biomedical’s divider designed for office spaces design

For staff at Northeast Biomedical, fun is both a modus operandi and a design philosophy. In response to a fruit-fly infestation, a team at Northeast designed and 3D printed an apparatus to capture the insects. On the other hand, Northeast’s pro-insect ‘Bee Team” is always thinking of ways to make bee-related products for a nearby apiary.

Northeast Biomedical’s unique personal barrier design is also fun. “What can a fun barrier look like?” asked Elizabeth Nelson, head of R&D at Northeast. “It’s one that you can doodle on, or can use to safely scribble a game of tic tac toe with a friend.” Northeast Biomedical makes its barriers from six translucent tiles, magnetically connected to each other to form a customizable shape. The barriers collapse into spaceconserving stack, and each piece is dish-washable. Those looking to personalize their barriers can do so with dry-erase markers.

In normal times, Northeast Biomedical’s core business helps companies ‘create medical devices to help enhance lives.’ The company offers product design and development services to companies making electromechanical instruments, catheters, robotics, and more.

In the supply-strapped early days of the American COVID-19 pandemic, Northeast’s leaders asked all employees to invent solutions. Despite the urgency of the crisis and the direct impact of COVID-19 on Northeast’s staff, the team has held on to its fun culture. Nelson says it’s more important than ever to be able to channel her inner child. She looks forward to looking back on this time, confident that her work on products like fun barriers will remind her that it “wasn’t as bad as I was afraid it could be.”

TRUEBOUNCE INTRODUCES DESK SHIELDS AND SOFTSHIELD® FOR SCHOOL REOPENING PPE

An employee wearing a TrueBounce face shield.

When Wayne Newton was running public work projects for parks and schools, he saw a lot of basketball courts that were in poor condition. In response, he and a partner founded TrueBounce, a company that provides nets, chains, pole padding, and other basketball court necessities. TrueBounce’s signature product is a backboard that uses patented technology to dampen rebounds, enhance the game’s overall athletic aspect.

Like many manufacturers, TrueBounce saw its sales decline in the early days of COVID. So Newton shifted his innovative energies to address problems in a new competition: the fight against the virus’s spread.

Newton says that the desk and face shields do not represent a major shift for his business. “We’re marketing to schools already for basketball products and sports equipment, so we don’t have to create a new customer base.”

Newton identified the need for solid but inexpensive products for students, staff and faculty simply by speaking to his customers. The desire for desktop and tabletop barriers of varying sizes particularly jumped out. These same customers indicated that eye protection was also a major concern area.

Newton, like many Americans, has difficulty breathing in standard facemasks. However, he and many of his sports-oriented customers often wear baseball caps. Besides his desk barriers, Newton has also designed a soft plastic face shield that connects to the cap’s visor and hangs down to protect the wearer’s face. The shield has two upward-facing gaps to allow air to escape, preventing breathing problems and glasses fog. The shields only need replacement when scratched or scuffed.

Newton enjoys a particular satisfaction watching people wear TrueBounce face shields for the first time. “I love to see people’s smiles when they use my products,” Newton said. “The face shield allows me to see them!”

Times of crisis are also times for innovation. Newton and the TrueBounce team are rising to the occasion. With two solid PPE product lines, TrueBounce is living their mission of helping people live better lives. An employee wearing a TrueBounce face shield.

From TrueBounce: Desk shields provide the most affordable and safe options for student distancing barrier protection. With custom shapes and configurations, TrueBounce is currently producing these exceptional products for public and private schools. The response has been tremendous!

SOFTSHIELD® ’s provide full face protection with comfortable baseball caps and visors. The soft shields provide excellent visibility enabling students and teachers to most effectively communicate while providing solid protection for face and eyes.

TrueBounce’s SOFTSHIELDs

WHEN COWORKING CAN’T WORK, QUANTA THINKS AIRIER

Paredes and Saenz point to a monitor for their air renovation system

Quanta has designed a system that monitors and controls air quality in office and commercial spaces. Surprisingly, this service is only one among many Quanta can offer to clients. A coworking space based in Somerville, Quanta provides start-ups with high-quality office space, helping entrepreneurs move great ideas out of their garages. Quanta also provides operational support services to fledgling businesses.

Quanta’s space offers a custom air quality monitoring system. The product monitors humidity, CO2 levels, and
volatile organic compound concentrations. Most importantly, the system connects to already-installed humidifiers, air renovators, and potentially even UV disinfection units, providing the ability to adjust a space’s air quality and minimize virus and bacteria propagation. Wall-mounted monitors control the whole system. “We’ve lived and breathed this system for the past two years,” explains Quanta co-founder Laidy Saenz.

When the pandemic began, the Quanta team looked for opportunities to expand their air quality monitoring and controlling business. Armando Paredes, Quanta’s air monitoring and control program manager, received a message in April from Eduardo Sastre, the other Quanta co-founder. “It was a research paper with evidence that humidity has a direct impact on the infection rates of airborne viruses”. Sastre has also noticed “the lack of good air renovation systems in small commercial spaces”.

Around that same time, Saenz read newspaper articles describing how COVID-concerned workers were opening their business’s windows to bring in fresh air. Saenz thought, ‘what happens when it’s 32°F outside?’ Quanta’s path into COVID-19 Indoor Air Quality Monitors systems began there.

As finalists in the COVID Intrapreneur Challenge, Quanta hopes to accelerate its efforts to bring its monitoring and controlling devices to market and help stop the spread of the virus, as well as to partner with local HVAC installers to promote the installation of Indoor Air Quality monitors.

FLEXCON COMPANY, A RAPID RESPONDER TO PANDEMIC NEEDS

FLEXcon’s pivot to face shield production began as a collaboration with local hospitals in need of PPE to protect employees. Although the company had no experience manufacturing face shields, the FLEXcon team developed a new, disposable face shield in just 36 hours. Following that, the company has developed reusable hoods to test the fit of face masks, ensuring that health professionals are not at risk.

FLEXcon is a leading manufacturer of pressure-sensitive films used for labels and graphics. When the pandemic began, staff responded, asking “what problems are occurring? What materials do we have? How can we design solutions,” explains FLEXcon Business Discovery and Technology Cell Manager, Julie Fehlmann.

FLEXcon’s PPE production initiatives have been supported by FLEXcon’s deep bench of technical problem solvers. For years, FLEXcon has fine-tuned its internal development processes, seemingly in preparation for this time. According to Fehlmann, aasking each and every employee to be a problem solver has been the heart of the transformation.

LympheDIVAs’ face mask designs draw heavily from their other products. They feature two layers of the same moisture wicking fabric as the company’s sleeves. The masks share the sleeves’ distinctive bright coloration. LympheDIVAs’ elastics loop around the back of the head, rather than behind the ears.

FLEXcon has been a key employer in Spencer for over 65 years. The company has managed to keep its entire staff working since the pandemic hit. FLEXcon has also donated some 20,000 face shields and 200 test hoods to local institutions throughout the recent pandemic months Using surplus materials from its factory, FLEXcon has also created and donated 1,000 “Creativity Kits” of glittery, glowing materials for kids to use in crafts projects. For Fehlmann, “getting involved has been extremely rewarding because you’re getting to see that direct impact and helping people. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and
everybody’s struggling, so any way we can make everyone’s life a little bit easier in this time is really great for us.”

FROM PRINTING TO FACE SHIELDS TO ECOMMERCE, SHEAR COLOR PIVOTS TOWARDS CORONATIME PROFITABILITY

The prospective logo for Shear Color’s PPE ecommerce site

Woburn-based Shear Color Printing was preparing to close in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic. “But then Massachusetts sent us a letter telling us to stay open,” said President Joel Weitzman. “We print labels for medical companies and HP Hood, and that was enough.”

Despite reduced sales amidst the COVID slow-down, the Shear Color team has kept its lights on by turning its attention to PPE. Says Weitzman: “It started when I was forwarded an email from a doctor at Mass General who was essentially asking people to send any PPE they could, because the hospital was
about to run out. I had a few boxes of nitrile gloves, so I sent those in.” Weitzman began thinking about what else the company could do. After considering a number of possible products, Weitzman concluded that Shear Color could make face shields “without reinventing the wheel.” After securing raw materials, Weitzman brought five employees back from furlough and commenced assembly.

His company entered Lever’s COVID Intrapreneur Challenge to improve its PPE product’s quality and sales. But after discussing with fellow Challenge competitors and Lever staff, Shear Color embarked on a second pivot.

“I came up with the concept for an e-commerce site specifically geared towards made-in-Massachusetts products for Massachusetts consumers and businesses,” Weitzman explained. “We want to give Massachusetts companies making PPE a bigger and improved online presence.” The website will feature separate sections covering different PPE products.

According to Weitzman, “if Massachusetts companies want to list their PPE on Etsy or Amazon, they run into a lot of snafus, and even if they can do it, you’re gonna find yourself, speaking from experience, listed at number 1000 among face shield vendors. So if it’s only Massachusetts manufacturing, we feel that we can introduce people to local products that they may have otherwise never heard of.”

“All things being equal, people prefer to buy locally,” Weitzman said. “It’s just a question of where and how to get the products to the people.”

Challenge 2: Innovations to Support Reopening

Winner: CareAline Products

Challenge Goal

1. Foster innovations that will help “lock in” the low rate of COVID infections in Massachusetts achieved through social distancing and other measures

2. Help Massachusetts manufacturers pivot their operations to produce goods and services that can be sold to public and private buyers in Massachusetts and beyond.

3. Support the efforts of the Manufacturing Emergency Response Team (MERT).

4. Preserve and create jobs in Massachusetts.

Accelerator Program Overview

Companies will be selected for a five-week acceleration toward new or expanded capacity to produce goods and services in support of the state’s Phase 2 re-opening. Priority will be given to companies that have the potential to deliver solutions at scale in a short period of time.

During the challenge program, intrapreneurs will develop prototype(s), business plans, market analysis and go-to-market strategies. On August 21, intrapreneurs will present their plans to a panel of experts. This panel will select one team to receive a $25,000 COVID Intrapreneur Challenge grant award.

Although just one team will win the Challenge, all participating companies will benefit from the COVID Intrapreneur Challenge program. Participants will have access to manufacturing know-how, to various domain experts, to raw material providers, and to prospective purchasers.

Meet the finalists

Phillips Enterprises, Inc.
Julee Clement,
Northampton

CareAline Products
Kezia Fitzgerald,
Danvers

Pyxis Global
Zoe Grant,
Lawrence

Landmark Finish Inc.
Deanna Junge,
Andover

Northeast Biomedical, Inc.
Elizabeth Nelson,
Tyngsborough

TrueBounce Inc.
Wayne Newton,
New Bedford

Quanta Collaboration
Armando Paredes,
Somerville

FLEXcon
Bill Sullivan,
Spencer

Shear Color Printing
Joel Weitzman,
Woburn

PHILLIPS ENTERPRISES ENTERS THE CORONA FIGHT WITH PPE BARRIERS

A Phillips employee fabricates a PPE barrier

Phillips Enterprises designs custom retail display solutions, for a wide range of products, including candles, cosmetics, art supplies, fragrances, toys, and electronics. The COVID-19 pandemic has kept
many customers from visiting retail stores and as a result, has reduced the demand for product displays. According to Leeanne Herman, the company’s Director of Sales, “we needed to pivot to generate sales.”

Phillips’ management explored the company’s capabilities to make PPE. After considering other products like masks and face shields, the team agreed to focus on PPE barriers. Protective barriers are a good fit for Phillips, a company experienced in acrylic cutting. Herman explained that once the design standards were in place, Phillips planned to “generate revenue through economies of scale.”

But as the company entered the marketplace, Phillips realized that a one-size-fits-all solution did not fit in many circumstances. The team also realized that many of their customers didn’t themselves know the proper barrier solutions for their unique spaces. Herman said that now, “people turn to us because they don’t know what they need, and we’ll take the time to talk through the scenario and its solution. So we’ve positioned ourselves as industry leaders by providing a customer-focused service, listening to our customers needs, and partnering with them to provide them with the best solution to reopening their business or school.”

The Phillips sales team provides direct on-site consultation to each customer to understand their protective barrier needs, determining the best solution for their space, and taking required measurements and details needed to fit the location. These details are brought back to create a quotation and engineering design. At this point, Phillips manufactures the barriers, and finally, the company sends a team to deliver and install the product for the customers. For smaller orders, the entire process takes only a week.

Herman is pleased with Phillips’ new work. “Providing these physical barriers gives me a sense of accomplishment because I’m fighting the disease’s spread, and that’s what it’s all about.”

GOWN AND MASK PRODUCTION NOT A FAR REACH FOR MEDICAL GARMENT COMPANY

Fitzgerald models CareAline’s reusable PPE gown

Kezia Fitzgerald is no stranger to quarantine. A two-time cancer survivor, Fitzgerald underwent a stem cell transplant last November. “I was just leaving my three-month mandated isolation when everything shut down. I went back into a life of isolation!”

Quarantine has not kept Fitzgerald from being productive. She is the CIO of CareAline, a medical products company. In standard times, CareAline creates common sense medical safety garments based on Fitzgerald’s own experiences with her and her daughter’s cancer care. Like many chemotherapy patients, they needed vascular access lines for drug administration. The experience of overseeing her family’s lines led Fitzgerald to develop products to help care for vascular access lines in others.

CareAline has increased its offerings to help respond to the pandemic. “It started with a text message,” says Fitzgerald. “I asked a doctor I know, ‘what do you need? Face masks, shields?’ The response was ‘isolation gowns’ just dead on, without any hesitation.” Fitzgerald set immediately to work, consulting with her pattern-maker, sourcing supplies, and discussing needs and specifications with medical professionals. CareAline’s gown design features a high collar to protect the chest and neck, a Velcro fastener that reduces contamination when removing the gown, and even thumbhole cuffs to help keep the cuff inside the glove, protecting the wrists.

Another distinguishing feature of CareAline’s gowns: they’re reusable. Fitzgerald explains, “reusable PPE ends up being a huge environmental savings as well as a cost savings, up to 70% over a disposable system. It’s 95% waste saving and 40% water saving, including the washing process, while stabilizing the supply chain.” The gowns can be used in medical settings as well as dental offices, schools and nursing homes. The Level 1 and 2 gowns are FDA-registered, and the company’s U.S.- based manufacturing will allow it to quickly provide both now and in future PPE shortages.

Besides gowns, CareAline has also begun mask production. The company has employed a chlorineactivated biofabric for its masks (the same fabric is used in hospital curtains and scrubs). CareAline masks also feature a layer of interior moisture-wicking fabric to improve comfort.

PYXIS EXPLODES TO NEW HEIGHTS AFTER TAKING ON THE PPE CRISIS

Today, Zoe Grant leads an active sales department at Pyxis, one of the country’s leading face shield suppliers. A few months ago, she was living a completely different experience.

“I was the fifth coronavirus case in Maine. I was so, so, so sick, just crazy sick. I was in strict quarantine for a month.”

Grant is close to the owners of Pyxis, a family business. During her COVID recovery, the owners checked on Zoe often. One day, they showed Zoe a picture of a face shield they had designed and asked her what she thought. “Well, I loved the design,” she said. Shortly after her recovery from COVID, she began working at Pyxis full time selling the masks she endorsed so heartily.

Grant arrived at Pyxis at a time of rapid growth for the company, driven by demand for PPE. CEO David Kagan said that Pyxis first got into the PPE business when Partners Health reached out due to a critical face shield shortage.

Pyxis’ face-shield design uses a paper board material with a clear laminated window which is recyclable and compostable, unlike plastic alternatives. “Face shields are responsible for 77,000 tons of plastic this year, so the amount of plastic waste that Pyxis is saving is monumental,” Grant said. The shields can also ship flat, lowering freight costs. Pyxis also offers customized shields and children’s sizes. The company now has 28 employees making shields and has shipped shields to 39 U.S. states.

Pyxis has donated nearly 50,000 shields to local organizations. “We started manufacturing for Partners, then Boston EMS, then Buffalo EMS, and then Boston City Hospital, then a couple of the food banks, then the YMCA, and at that point it began to gain critical mass because of the critical shortage,” Kagan said.

Grant has opened Pyxis up to some new and unconventional marketing strategies. “In the beginning, we joined WhatsApp groups, Facebook groups, and Telegram. We reached out to a company over TikTok and we were able to send samples to them! We just looked at each other and said ‘seriously?’”

Grant has learned some interesting things about sales as well. “People have been calling about things we don’t even sell. They’re like ‘we heard you’re so nice, and that you say please and thank you.’ And I say ‘that’s not a thing everyone’s doing?’ There’s so much craziness in our industry that being friendly, as silly as that sounds, put us above.”

NORTHEAST BIOMEDICAL’S JUBILANT COMPANY CULTURE ADDS ELATION TO ISOLATION

For staff at Northeast Biomedical, fun is both a modus operandi and a design philosophy. In response to a fruit-fly infestation, a team at Northeast designed and 3D printed an apparatus to capture the insects. On the other hand, Northeast’s pro-insect ‘Bee Team” is always thinking of ways to make bee-related products for a nearby apiary.

Northeast Biomedical’s unique personal barrier design is also fun. “What can a fun barrier look like?” asked Elizabeth Nelson, head of R&D at Northeast. “It’s one that you can doodle on, or can use to safely scribble a game of tic tac toe with a friend.” Northeast Biomedical makes its barriers from six translucent tiles, magnetically connected to each other to form a customizable shape. The barriers collapse into spaceconserving stack, and each piece is dish-washable. Those looking to personalize their barriers can do so with dry-erase markers.

In normal times, Northeast Biomedical’s core business helps companies ‘create medical devices to help enhance lives.’ The company offers product design and development services to companies making electromechanical instruments, catheters, robotics, and more.

In the supply-strapped early days of the American COVID-19 pandemic, Northeast’s leaders asked all employees to invent solutions. Despite the urgency of the crisis and the direct impact of COVID-19 on Northeast’s staff, the team has held on to its fun culture. Nelson says it’s more important than ever to be able to channel her inner child. She looks forward to looking back on this time, confident that her work on products like fun barriers will remind her that it “wasn’t as bad as I was afraid it could be.”

TRUEBOUNCE INTRODUCES DESK SHIELDS AND SOFTSHIELD® FOR SCHOOL REOPENING PPE

An employee wearing a TrueBounce face shield.

When Wayne Newton was running public work projects for parks and schools, he saw a lot of basketball courts that were in poor condition. In response, he and a partner founded TrueBounce, a company that provides nets, chains, pole padding, and other basketball court necessities. TrueBounce’s signature product is a backboard that uses patented technology to dampen rebounds, enhance the game’s overall athletic aspect.

Like many manufacturers, TrueBounce saw its sales decline in the early days of COVID. So Newton shifted his innovative energies to address problems in a new competition: the fight against the virus’s spread.

Newton says that the desk and face shields do not represent a major shift for his business. “We’re marketing to schools already for basketball products and sports equipment, so we don’t have to create a new customer base.”

Newton identified the need for solid but inexpensive products for students, staff and faculty simply by speaking to his customers. The desire for desktop and tabletop barriers of varying sizes particularly jumped out. These same customers indicated that eye protection was also a major concern area.

Newton, like many Americans, has difficulty breathing in standard facemasks. However, he and many of his sports-oriented customers often wear baseball caps. Besides his desk barriers, Newton has also designed a soft plastic face shield that connects to the cap’s visor and hangs down to protect the wearer’s face. The shield has two upward-facing gaps to allow air to escape, preventing breathing problems and glasses fog. The shields only need replacement when scratched or scuffed.

Newton enjoys a particular satisfaction watching people wear TrueBounce face shields for the first time. “I love to see people’s smiles when they use my products,” Newton said. “The face shield allows me to see them!”

Times of crisis are also times for innovation. Newton and the TrueBounce team are rising to the occasion. With two solid PPE product lines, TrueBounce is living their mission of helping people live better lives. An employee wearing a TrueBounce face shield.

From TrueBounce: Desk shields provide the most affordable and safe options for student distancing barrier protection. With custom shapes and configurations, TrueBounce is currently producing these exceptional products for public and private schools. The response has been tremendous!

SOFTSHIELD® ’s provide full face protection with comfortable baseball caps and visors. The soft shields provide excellent visibility enabling students and teachers to most effectively communicate while providing solid protection for face and eyes.

TrueBounce’s SOFTSHIELDs

WHEN COWORKING CAN’T WORK, QUANTA THINKS AIRIER

Paredes and Saenz point to a monitor for their air renovation system

Quanta has designed a system that monitors and controls air quality in office and commercial spaces. Surprisingly, this service is only one among many Quanta can offer to clients. A coworking space based in Somerville, Quanta provides start-ups with high-quality office space, helping entrepreneurs move great ideas out of their garages. Quanta also provides operational support services to fledgling businesses.

Quanta’s space offers a custom air quality monitoring system. The product monitors humidity, CO2 levels, and volatile organic compound concentrations. Most importantly, the system connects to already-installed humidifiers, air renovators, and potentially even UV disinfection units, providing the ability to adjust a space’s air quality and minimize virus and bacteria propagation. Wall-mounted monitors control the whole system. “We’ve lived and breathed this system for the past two years,” explains Quanta co-founder Laidy Saenz.

When the pandemic began, the Quanta team looked for opportunities to expand their air quality monitoring and controlling business. Armando Paredes, Quanta’s air monitoring and control program manager, received a message in April from Eduardo Sastre, the other Quanta co-founder. “It was a research paper with evidence that humidity has a direct impact on the infection rates of airborne viruses”. Sastre has also noticed “the lack of good air renovation systems in small commercial spaces”.

Around that same time, Saenz read newspaper articles describing how COVID-concerned workers were opening their business’s windows to bring in fresh air. Saenz thought, ‘what happens when it’s 32°F outside?’ Quanta’s path into COVID-19 Indoor Air Quality Monitors systems began there.

As finalists in the COVID Intrapreneur Challenge, Quanta hopes to accelerate its efforts to bring its monitoring and controlling devices to market and help stop the spread of the virus, as well as to partner with local HVAC installers to promote the installation of Indoor Air Quality monitors.

FLEXCON COMPANY, A RAPID RESPONDER TO PANDEMIC NEEDS

FLEXcon’s pivot to face shield production began as a collaboration with local hospitals in need of PPE to protect employees. Although the company had no experience manufacturing face shields, the FLEXcon team developed a new, disposable face shield in just 36 hours. Following that, the company has developed reusable hoods to test the fit of face masks, ensuring that health professionals are not at risk.

FLEXcon is a leading manufacturer of pressure-sensitive films used for labels and graphics. When the pandemic began, staff responded, asking “what problems are occurring? What materials do we have? How can we design solutions,” explains FLEXcon Business Discovery and Technology Cell Manager, Julie Fehlmann.

FLEXcon’s PPE production initiatives have been supported by FLEXcon’s deep bench of technical problem solvers. For years, FLEXcon has fine-tuned its internal development processes, seemingly in preparation for this time. According to Fehlmann, aasking each and every employee to be a problem solver has been the heart of the transformation.

LympheDIVAs’ face mask designs draw heavily from their other products. They feature two layers of the same moisture wicking fabric as the company’s sleeves. The masks share the sleeves’ distinctive bright coloration. LympheDIVAs’ elastics loop around the back of the head, rather than behind the ears.

FLEXcon has been a key employer in Spencer for over 65 years. The company has managed to keep its entire staff working since the pandemic hit. FLEXcon has also donated some 20,000 face shields and 200 test hoods to local institutions throughout the recent pandemic months Using surplus materials from its factory, FLEXcon has also created and donated 1,000 “Creativity Kits” of glittery, glowing materials for kids to use in crafts projects. For Fehlmann, “getting involved has been extremely rewarding because you’re getting to see that direct impact and helping people. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and
everybody’s struggling, so any way we can make everyone’s life a little bit easier in this time is really great for us.”

FROM PRINTING TO FACE SHIELDS TO ECOMMERCE, SHEAR COLOR PIVOTS TOWARDS CORONATIME PROFITABILITY

The prospective logo for Shear Color’s PPE ecommerce site

Woburn-based Shear Color Printing was preparing to close in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic. “But then Massachusetts sent us a letter telling us to stay open,” said President Joel Weitzman. “We print labels for medical companies and HP Hood, and that was enough.”

Despite reduced sales amidst the COVID slow-down, the Shear Color team has kept its lights on by turning its attention to PPE. Says Weitzman: “It started when I was forwarded an email from a doctor at Mass General who was essentially asking people to send any PPE they could, because the hospital was about to run out. I had a few boxes of nitrile gloves, so I sent those in.” Weitzman began thinking about what else the company could do. After considering a number of possible products, Weitzman concluded that Shear Color could make face shields “without reinventing the wheel.” After securing raw materials, Weitzman brought five employees back from furlough and commenced assembly.

His company entered Lever’s COVID Intrapreneur Challenge to improve its PPE product’s quality and sales. But after discussing with fellow Challenge competitors and Lever staff, Shear Color embarked on a second pivot.

“I came up with the concept for an e-commerce site specifically geared towards made-in-Massachusetts products for Massachusetts consumers and businesses,” Weitzman explained. “We want to give Massachusetts companies making PPE a bigger and improved online presence.” The website will feature separate sections covering different PPE products.

According to Weitzman, “if Massachusetts companies want to list their PPE on Etsy or Amazon, they run into a lot of snafus, and even if they can do it, you’re gonna find yourself, speaking from experience, listed at number 1000 among face shield vendors. So if it’s only Massachusetts manufacturing, we feel that we can introduce people to local products that they may have otherwise never heard of.”

“All things being equal, people prefer to buy locally,” Weitzman said. “It’s just a question of where and how to get the products to the people.”

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