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Finalists For ‘COVID-19 Intrapreneur Challenge’ Aim To Help Businesses Reopen Safely

By Julia Taliesin Wicked Local North, Danvers, Mass.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A reusable isolation gown that is tailor-made for COVID-era treatment and a new air monitor are among the products developed by finalists of the "Covid_19 Intrapreneur Challenge" which is aimed at helping businesses reopen in the age of Coronavirus.

Danvers

Many companies are struggling to safely reopen during a pandemic, and Lever, Inc. is trying to support innovation that enables safe business reopenings across the state.

As part of its COVID-19 Intrapreneur Challenge, Lever, a Massachusetts company dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs, and the Innovation Institute at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative are awarding $25,000 to one team to help develop a product that will aid with the state's reopening. This is the second challenge Lever is overseeing, with funding provided by the Innovation Institute and born out of the work by the Massachusetts Manufacturing Emergency Response Team. This round of the Intrapreneur Challenge has nine finalists from cities and towns across the state, including Somerville, Danvers and Woburn. Additional challenges will focus on other products and services that promote health and safety during a pandemic and beyond.

Lever works to support innovation from within companies, as well, hence the term "intrapreneur." Interested companies can find out more at leverinc.org/covid-19-intrapreneur-challenge

An innovative isolation gown Danvers-based CareAline Products has been working with healthcare staff for months to develop a reusable isolation gown that is tailor-made for COVID-era treatment.

Kezia Fitzgerald founded CareAline Products in 2012, producing and sharing products that she had developed to make her and her daughter's lives easier when they were battling cancer together in 2011.

"When COVID hit...we reached out to our hospital partners," she said. "We wanted to be as helpful as possible to them and they were going through a tough spot. We asked what we could do to help, and the immediate response was that they needed isolation gowns."

CareAline products are made at a Fall River factory, so Fitzgerald said she had access to fabric and resources when many others did not.

"We thought, 'what can we do to make an isolation gown that is not only going to be what is needed,'" she said. "We knew they were using what had been not purposed for this situation, and they were learning what was working and what wasn't. We talked to PPE and infection control specialists and asked where you are seeing issues and what we could do to help improve them. We figured if we're starting from scratch, we might as well improve them."

CareAline's design improves three key areas: chest and neck coverage, wrist and hand coverage, and gown removal. CareAline put a higher collar on the gown so more of the body is protected, and added thumb holes to the cuffs so gloves could slip right over the gown and prevent any wrist exposure.

Most isolation gowns are disposable, and the safe way to remove them is to simply tear them off, but Fitzgerald wanted to design a sustainable, reusable option that could also be safely removed. CareAline's gowns use Velcro closures, instead of hard-to-manage ties.

CareAline is also making the gowns available in smaller quantities, so dental practices, smaller medical practices, and school nurse offices can get them at affordable prices. In fact, CareAline is supplying gowns for the Danvers school system.

"One of the things happening right now, as the state is trying to reopen, is we are seeing there are businesses outside of just hospitals that are going to need to protect themselves from potential COVID patients," she said. "People will need extra protection, but with the shortage of isolation gowns many places are not getting access to traditional, medical PPE from suppliers, which is where we're able to help."

A fresh air monitor Somerville's Quanta Collaboration has developed an air monitor -- name to be determined -- which measures numerous parameters and controls HVAC machines to create a better, cleaner environment. Analyst Armondo Paredes said the company started developing the product before COVID hit. "Quanta is still a real estate company creating co-working spaces, but we're really focused on the quality of air within the spaces," he said. "We wanted to control the CO2 levels and the dust levels to make it really comfortable, and make the workers feel really health and more productive. When they were looking into this, they discovered that there were no monitors of this type, so they built one."

Lever, Inc. challenged companies to create products what support business reopening, and that's exactly what Paredes hopes this does. The monitor will work with systems to clean the air and control the humidity levels -- which studies show has an impact on COVID transmission. Quanta is piloting the system in its office space, which plans to pitch the monitor to other office spaces and restaurants.

"We're excited to help these businesses create an environment that is safer for everyone," said Paredes. "An environment that they can convey to the people is safe. I think it's not just short term for COVID, we think it will be the new norm."

A local maker's platform When the pandemic hit, Joel Weitzman of Woburn's Shear Color Printing shifted operations like many other businesses. After receiving personal emails requesting PPE from a friend's sister who's a doctor at Mass General Hospital, Weitzman started converting operations to make clear plastic face shields.

"We're small, and by the time I got my ducks in a row Ford has started making thousands of masks per day," he said. "But we kept making them and giving a bunch away, but we had this product and I thought we could give people the option to put their own branding across the top, so that's what I pitched to the challenge."

But after a few meetings with his fellow contestants, he changed his idea. "Everyone seems to be having same problem," he said. "All of these people are making stuff and there are people who want to buy it, but there's this big disconnect. My new concept is an e-commerce platform specifically for companies in Massachusetts making PPE. We're setting up an online marketplace, so hopefully I can drive traffic so that consumers and business are buying locally."

The platform is not live yet, but Weitzman has purchased the domain MadeinMassPPE.com. Now, Weitzman is working on getting suppliers, but he's already received positive feedback from potential vendors. Any interested vendors can contact him at [email protected]

He also hopes this platform will help vendors cut through the red tape when selling to schools or getting listed on state directories. When, eventually, the need for PPE relaxes, Weitzman hopes this will become a resource for consumers to find local vendors and support the local economy.

"No one that I've talked to is doing this to get rich, they have converted their businesses to try and keep things going and help the cause," he said. "We're ready to help, and we hear people need these products, but we have no way to get in contact with them ... [This will keep resources] flowing buyer to maker and back into buyer, which is so much more important than money flowing overseas. The core of the economy is the small local business economy." ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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