Sarah Lerner ’17, MBA’20 spends her days working at Wayfair, her evenings pursuing a graduate degree at Babson, and many late nights as a volunteer business developer at The Ventilator Project, a nonprofit trying to construct and market a simpler, cost-friendly ventilator specifically for COVID-19 patients.
Bouncing between so many roles requires a level of versatility and adaptability that, over the last several weeks, has solidified her confidence to take on all that life and business may throw her way.
“This is the spirit of optimism, people donating time, resources, knowledge, in any way we can,” she said.
Lerner is one of many current students and alumni who not only developed such qualities at Babson, but also have helped companies start and pivot production to supply healthcare providers with the equipment and gear they need.
For these entrepreneurs, the experience has been a valuable learning opportunity—one that proved to them that they do in fact have the skills and mindset to do whatever it takes.
A Logical Fit for a Long-Term Goal
Up until a few weeks ago, Hanson Grant ’16 had long contemplated starting a second company.
Due to similarities in manufacturing apparatus used for his business Think Board, he may have unofficially accomplished just that through the production of personal protective equipment.
“It’s reminded me of the joy of creating a product people want and need, the joy of doing something that creates a positive impact in the community, and how well things flow when you’re doing it for the right reasons,” Grant said.
As the coronavirus outbreak escalated, Think Board, which produces dry erase films for schools, homes, and offices, began publishing content to help ease the transition of working from home. Following negative economic swings and the closings of schools and offices, they started offering large discounts on their products to aid in the transition of working and teaching from home.
“That’s kind of the Babson way, you figure it out as you go and you learn from it. You’re continuously learning, understanding, and growing.”
Think Board founder Hanson Grant '16
Hungry to make a greater impact, Grant and his team found their next solution right in front of them after conversations with their manufacturer. With direct access to the right tools, including laser cutters, Think Board made a simple transition to creating face shields, intubation boxes, and sneeze guards. Throughout the process, the company invited input from current Babson students on how it can distribute masks while keeping costs low.
Having sold 1,000 units so far, Think Board plans to continue churning out personal protective equipment as long as there’s a demand.
“That’s kind of the Babson way, you figure it out as you go and you learn from it,” Grant said. “You’re continuously learning, understanding, and growing.”
Filling an Extreme Need
At The Ventilator Project, Lerner has helped the organization manufacture partnerships, fundraise, and close financing and human resource gaps. The organization is made up of about 250 volunteers, who have collaborated remotely and flown across the country to Boston in order to help on site.
“While not everyone’s an engineer, it’s amazing to see their ability to find a niche where they’re most specialized,” Lerner said.
To create ventilators, the organization has sourced parts from outside the medical supply chain. The Ventilator Project hopes to raise about $2.5 million in the coming months.
With “the extreme need of 600,000 units in the United States, and 13 million around the world, it felt like something the current market couldn’t support,” Lerner said. “We’re able to create something that’s significantly more affordable … it’s been an amazing process to see come to life.”
Lerner said Babson gave her confidence to jump into different areas of business, which has been welcome because time is of the essence. Right now, the organization hopes to launch the ventilator in early May.
“We don’t have the time to have delays,” Lerner said. “Delays cost lives. We need to get this out as soon as possible.”
Learning from a Fast Turnaround
For winter sports enthusiasts, the coronavirus outbreak led to an abrupt end of the ski season.
At Parlor, a custom ski and snowboard business managed by Mark Wallace MBA’14, the crisis created an opportunity to supply the health care industry and first responders with face shields from the supplies the company had on hand.
And, they wasted no time doing so. The idea to pivot arose on April 1, materials arrived on April 8, and production began the next day.
“It’s one of the nice things about running a smaller, nimble company,” Wallace said. “You can decide to do something and make it happen really quickly.”
Exorbitant demand for the face shields and the company’s rapid transition from highly crafted winter sports equipment to volume production taught Wallace what the company is capable of.
“It’s nice to know we have the ability to jump into a separate vehicle if that opportunity presents itself,” Wallace said. “What is automatic for me now, is thinking about how quickly you can do something.”