As COVID-19 cases spiked in the US, Colorado entrepreneurs like Andrew Henderson and Lauren Hebert were inspired to create a community platform for people to get involved with the relief effort in any way they could.
“It’s not in our psyche to sit by while a crisis is happening,” said Henderson.
Because of Henderson’s past experiences in international aid work, he knew his first step was to figure out what healthcare providers needed, what he could do, and what materials were available to him.
“This is pretty common for anyone who’s done development work. You come from a scarcity mindset,” explained Henderson. Prior to his work in technology, he had volunteered in Nicaragua, where he worked to get medical supplies to doctors in remote regions that needed them.
“Once we know the materials available, we see if we can get things done. Once I’d done that, this is roughly how many we can make,” Henderson explained. After explaining the situation and the needs of FEMA, Henderson’s colleagues at the CU Denver Inworks lab immediately agreed to get involved.
Henderson is the lab manager at Inworks, an innovative initiative of the University of Colorado Denver and Anschutz Medical Campus, that brings together professionals from a variety of disciplines, to solve important societal issues. Inworks’ innovative approach to problem-solving had great influence on the formation of Make4Covid. The Inworks system combines an interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving with design thinking (designing solutions to solve complex problems) and computational thinking (using digital technology to create). This can lead to “disruptive innovation,” or new solutions that can disrupt a market instead of offering incremental improvements to systems that already exist.
However, before Henderson’s team had completed their plan, Henderson received a call for help from doctor Karsten Bartels, who was concerned about his clinic’s limited supplies.
“Here was someone extremely smart, very capable, and he was taking time after what sounded like an enormously long week to say we need to do something about this, and we need help,” explained Henderson.
As a first step, Henderson explored open source designs, and found ones by Prusa, a 3D printing company. From there, he assessed the number of face shields he could make using the resources he had on hand.
“Prusa has a print farm that makes parts for printers, and they have 1,100 printers in the Czech Republic. We saw several different designs for face shields,” said Henderson.
“What’s really exciting about this project is watching it grow from the start up stage, through the issues that come up when it becomes large,” explained co-founder Lauren Hebert. Once Make4Covid reached a certain size, Make4Covid saw an explosion in small teams working together on small projects.
Contributors have come from all walks of life, ranging from high school students, to engineers, to crafts enthusiasts. One such contributor was high school teacher Cara Phillips, whose science students at the STEM School and Academy at Highlands Ranch have used 3D printers to make over 500 face shield bands for healthcare providers.
Seeking a way to connect to hospitals, Phillips found Make4Covid.
“They were getting requests from real medical professionals,” said Phillips. “I saw this group was legit, so I wanted to see what more we could do.”
“There was some top-down organizing, but really, volunteers saw gaps, and they would say “I think you need ‘blank,’” said Lauren Hebert.
Make4Covid was an asset in this vetting process, because they knew anything they received through the organization went through standard procedures.
“We heard early on from hospitals that they were being inundated with calls from people who wanted help, but they were also inundated with patients, so they couldn’t route those calls anywhere,” said Hebert. “They were getting donations, and they didn’t know whether they could use those donations or not.”
Make4Covid has been a pioneer in community support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Groups from around the US have contacted them, asking how they were able to set up so quickly.
“It’s really two things. It’s speed, how we did this so quickly, and how we did this safely. How we built a clinical validation process with doctors,” said Hebert. “Because Inworks is on a medical campus, it was very fluid to create a validation process with doctors. We already had the prototyping procedure in place for clinical validation.”
Doctors already knew and trusted the team, and were open to consulting them about all of the potential issues with products presented, as well as how to perfect those products.
“Members of the medical community have been co-creators in everything we’ve designed, not consumers,” explained Hebert.
Written by Bryce Fricklas, volunteer at Make4Covid and freelance journalist. Learn more about Bryce on LinkedIn.