PPE for the people

New initiative to bring protective equipment to underserved parts of Houston

PPE For The People will donate personal protective equipment to workers in communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Photos via houston.impacthub.net/ppeforthepeople

Through a collaboration between a 3D printing company and a nonprofit organization, small businesses in underserved parts of town are able to apply to receive personal protective equipment donations.

Impact Hub Houston and re:3D have teamed up for an initiative called PPE For The People that will create and donate PPE to small businesses disproportionately affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

"All of the emerging data indicates that, while a coronavirus may not discriminate, disparities that already exist in society are putting communities of color at a disproportionately higher risk of infection, serious illness, and death from COVID-19," says Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston.

According to a news release, the initiative will support workers across industries — from restaurants employees and bus and delivery drivers to small businesses that seek to reopen safely, like barbershops and nail salons.

Impact Hub Houston works to prioritize inclusion in Houston, which has been recognized as the most diverse city in the nation.

"There a number of societal factors that are leading to disproportionately higher COVID-19 cases and deaths among minority communities," says Rodriguez, specifying that these factors include lack of access to health care, overrepresentation of people of color in jobs considered essential, and more.

To start, the initiative has identified the southeast, south, and southwest parts of Houston to deliver four types of 3D-printed PPE: face shields, ear savers, hands-free door opener, and splash guards.

"re:3D has extensively researched PPE production for COVID-19 throughout the crisis as well as collaborated with healthcare workers, first responders, and local businesses to identify where there are gaps in their ability to protect themselves and their customers," says re:3D's community liaison, Charlotte Craff. "We have started with these items because we are confident they fill those needs."

The campaign, which is raising money and seeking volunteers online, began Wednesday, May 6, and expects to deliver its first PPE next week. The organizations are looking into expanding the PPE offered, as well as their reach, but it depends on fundraising.

"We would like to expand the project to serve communities in the northeast and other high-risk areas of Houston, but that all depends on how much funding we can raise to keep producing and delivering PPE," Rodriguez explains.

According to the release, Impact Hub Houston is financially supporting the initiative through its Fiscal Sponsorship Program, which re:3D applied to. The H-Force network, a crisis collaboration, is also lending its support to this initiative.

"We are honored to help those who are most vulnerable," says Craff in the release. "Data from the CDC has shown minority communities are at greater risk of critical illness from COVID-19, and we want to help local small businesses protect their employees as best as possible without it being an added financial burden on already strained industries."

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Building Houston

 
 

Raising funds anytime soon? Take these tips from a venture capital insider into consideration. Photo via Getty Images

I have had the incredible opportunity to work with New Stack Ventures as a venture fellow, and after sourcing investment opportunities, shadowing calls with founders, and even leading a couple calls of my own, I have learned a few lessons that might resonate with startup founders who are raising capital.

Responsive founders make a difference

The first and likely most important lesson I have learned during my tenure as a fellow is this: responsive founders truly make a difference in whether or not they raise capital.

I have sent several emails and LinkedIn messages to really intriguing companies, in hopes of connecting for a call and inquiring about their raise. And, I look back and see that many of those outreach messages were left unread. I have also engaged in calls with really intriguing companies where the founder never follows up, and the idea of moving forward with next steps dissipates.

On the flipside of the forgetful founder, I have also witnessed extremely attentive founders: founders who send follow-up messages when they don't receive an immediate response, respond to their emails within the hour, and go above and beyond by sending pitch decks and executive summaries (even when unasked). This type of founder persona excites me with their enthusiasm and eagerness to make a deal. Their responsiveness with the investment process sheds light to how they likely run their businesses.

At the end of the day, many founders can say that they are hustlers and go-getters, but I believe the founders that show me through their actions in the investment process.

Great founders are great storytellers

When I do connect with founders in introductory calls (after the back-and-forth, hopefully responsive email exchange), the thing I look forward to most is hearing their stories. I want to know your story. I want to know what you were doing before your startup (and how that helped prepare you), how you thought of your idea, how you validated your assumptions, how you grew your business, and… everything in between (but all in less than five minutes of time).

Great founders are great storytellers. The great storytellers I have come across invite me into their companies' journeys, and leave me actually caring about their success.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the founder who gives short responses and shows no real connection to their work (giving off the vibe that this is just another startup for them) leaves me unattached to them and their business.

Venture capitalists are more accessible than you might think

Perhaps, I gave this point away when I said that I was sending several emails and LinkedIn messages to founders (which sounds a little desperate), but VCs are way more accessible than you may think. Before working with New Stack Ventures, I had this perception that VCs were extremely hard to reach, exceptionally busy, and a little bit scary. And while one of the two latter characteristics still remains true, I can say with certainty that VCs are not hard to reach.

I can't speak for everyone in venture capital, but I do know that the VCs I work with will respond to founders who message them. Putting yourself out there, as a founder, can lead to advice (which bodes well for your business), a new connection in the industry (which bodes well for your network), and even an investment (which bodes well for the future of your startup). In the end, VCs are spending hundreds of hours, searching for a tractable startup that will change the game, and your startup could be the very gem they are looking for.

So, be bold, be responsive, and tell your story to any and every VC who will listen. I'm all ears.

Note: I was inspired to write this piece by by The Full Ratchet's tips for fundraising entrepreneurs, I thought I would share.

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Christa Westheimer is a Rice University student and the managing director at Rice Ventures. She is a current venture fellow at Chicago-based New Stack Ventures.

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