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

 
 

Panelists from the University of Houston and Houston Methodist discussed tech transfer challenges and opportunities for academic innovators. Photo courtesy

Groundbreaking and disruptive innovations across industries are coming out of research institutions, and their commercialization process is very different from other startups.

An expert panel within Technology transfer discussed some of the unique obstacles innovators face as they go from academia into the market — like patenting, funding, the valley of death, and more.

Missed the conversation? Here are eight key moments from the panel that took place at the University of Houston's Technology Bridge on Wednesday, May 19.

This event was hosted by InnovationMap and University of Houston.

“If your technology can immediately impact some industry, I think you should license out your technology. But if you think that the reward is much higher and does not yet match something in the industry, you should go the high risk, high reward path of doing it yourself. That’s a much more challenging. It takes years of work.”

— Hadi Ghasemi, co-founder of Elemental Coatings and Cullen associate professor in the department of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, says on how tech transfer usually happens via those two pathways. Ghasemi explains that it also depends on the academic's passion for the product and interest in becoming an entrepreneur.

“There’s a mismatch in that you can have a really clinically impactful technology but still not have money to develop it into a product.” 

— Rashim Singh, co-founder of Sanarentero and a research assistant professor of pharmaceutics at the University of Houston College of Pharmacy, says on the different priorities from within academia and within the market.

“What I’ve seen is if you know you want to patent something, tell the right people early. Make sure you have the right players involved. Our tech office already has venture, Pharma, etc. partners that can help with the patent process.”

— Ginny Torno, administrative director of innovation and IT clinical systems at Houston Methodist

“You don’t need to be fully transparent about your technology. As a company, you need to have some secret sauce."

— Ghasemi says on the patent and paper publishing process. Academics are used to publishing their research, but when it comes to business, you need to hold some things close to the chest.

“One of the most important piece the UH Tech Bridge has provided is the wet lab space to develop these technologies a little further toward commercialization. … Wet lab is very precious space in Houston specifically because there isn’t much here.”

— Singh says on how important access to lab space is to the entrepreneur.

"“You’re starting to see more and more organizations that have innovation arms. ... There are a lot of focus on trying to make Houston another innovation hub, and I think there is more support now than even a few years ago.”

— Torno says on what's changed over the past few years, mentioning TMC3 and the Ion.

“Try to serve private capital as soon as possible. The grant money comes, and those are good and will help you prove out your technology. But once you have private money, it shows people care about your product.”

— Ghasemi says as a piece of advice for potential tech transfer entrepreneurs.

“The biggest gap is to arrange for funding — federal, private, etc. — to support during the valley of death.”

— Singh says on the struggle research-based startups, especially in drug discovery, faces as they fight to prove out their product and try to stay afloat financially.

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